12 Jun 2024

‘Dishy Rishi’ is running the worst election campaign in modern times

Rishi Sunak appears to have learnt all the wrong lessons from Labour leaders of the past as he sends the Tories to what looks to be their worst election defeat of all time.

Joshua Kaile

As we pass the halfway mark in this general election campaign it is now clear that Rishi Sunak is running the worst campaign we have seen in many years.

He has outdone Theresa May’s ‘dementia tax’ shambles that led to her losing a workable majority.

In a way it feels like he has now summoned the curse of Labour defeats of the past, combining all their mistakes to deliver a campaign that has seemingly brought the Conservatives to their electoral knees.

First, he appears to have failed to pick the right time for an election, just as Gordon Brown was seen to have ‘bottled’ an election at a time that suited him.

Sunak appears to have panicked – the timing has confounded experts and caught many off guard, not least much of his own party. Maybe there was a Tory coup at his door, and he felt he had to go now, or risk being ousted. Or maybe he did think that inflation coming down was enough for him to claim that the economy was turning up and he could claim his plan is working.

Nevertheless the optics of appearing in the pouring rain, umbrella-less, whilst the New Labour anthem ‘things can only get better’ overshadowed his speech, will go down in history as one of the worst launches of an election campaign.

Next on the list of Labour leaders to have tasted electoral defeat is Ed Miliband, who struggled to connect to much of the British public. Although not in the campaign itself, Ed had several moments that made it appear he was out of touch, and where he mas mercilessly mocked by the media. There was the awkward bacon sandwich photo-op, which led to his becoming a meme, followed by his attempt to relate to the struggles of everyday voters  by talking about his ‘two kitchens’…

And with that we hurtle forward to the latest ‘gaff’ in our current campaign where, in an interview that Rishi ran back from D-Day celebrations to participate in, he suggests that his family also struggled when he was young because he ‘didn’t have Sky TV’. For the Prime Minister – now to be referred to as ‘Dishy Rishi’-  to feel that this was the example to use to show you understand the struggles of your electorate shows how out of touch he has found himself, not least as Rishi and his wife are among the wealthiest people in the UK.

David Cameron and Boris Johnson would never have felt the need to suggest their wealth meant they couldn’t relate or understand the British public. The latter certainly never felt he had to apologise for it, he wore it as a badge of honour no less. Whilst Rishi’s current gaff is only just gaining headlines now, expect it to be referred to in the weeks to come.

Our next stop is Labour’s controversial leader during the 2017 and 2019 elections, Jeremy Corbyn. There are many things he was criticised for during his leadership and the elections themselves, but a consistent one was his apparent lack of respect for the military and veterans, with images of him at Remembrance Sunday being described as ‘disrespectful’ simply for being scruffy, wearing an anorak rather than the formal attire more traditionally seen. For many it was an indicator that he didn’t take it as seriously as he should and that it revealed more about his views on connected issues than he would care to admit.

On the furore around Rishi Sunak’s decision to leave the 80th anniversary of D-Day celebrations, attended by world leaders, in order to get home for a pre-agreed election interview with ITV. Unsurprisingly this was headline news for several days and led to an apology from the PM himself for his poor decision. One can only imagine, however, the reaction if Jeremy Corbyn had done the same thing himself.

The common thread throughout these mistakes of Labour leaders of the past – that Rishi has echoed or even surpassed – is a lack of political judgement. Whether that is his own fault or that of his team will be determined at a later date. But if you look at the opinion polls it looks as if the damage that has been done is now irreversible. It doesn’t feel as if a significant blow during a TV debate or Labour creating a mess from their manifesto will be enough now to decisively change the mood in the country and keep the Conservatives, and Rishi, in Number 10.

The other striking thing to note from these examples of mistakes made by former Labour leaders is how the current leadership has avoided making any of them. Often criticised for employing a ‘ming vase’ strategy – which aims to move carefully along without making a big mistake and dropping the vase – it now looks like the approach is delivering

There are no certainties in politics, but at this stage if there is to be another big mistake in this campaign, you’d bank on it coming from the Tories, not Labour.

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