Sunak continues his fighting talk. At this stage it’s more of a surrender message | Marina Hyde

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Sunak continues his fighting talk. At this stage it’s more of a surrender message

Prime minister’s campaign has become the only spectacle less appealing than England at the Euros

“I will never stop fighting for this country,” ran Rishi Sunak’s morning message to a nation that, if the polls are to be believed, overwhelmingly just wants him to stop fighting for this country ASAP. In any case, since almost the start of this campaign, the prime minister has been pegged as a Normandy deserter. He totally wanted to fight on the beaches for this country – but unfortunately he wanted to do a telly interview more.

Undeterred, however, Sunak appended the above message to today’s exciting new Conservative attack ad. This shows an elderly man, a woman and a child from behind, holding up their hands. We know it’s a surrender because the caption is “DON’T SURRENDER YOUR FAMILY’S FUTURE TO LABOUR”. Probably the best thing you can say about it is that it’s good the actors could get paid the day rate without having to show their faces to the camera.

I will never stop fighting for this country.

— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) June 27, 2024

That said, the condemnation for the fact it shows a child being held at gunpoint feels somewhat overblown. Can’t help feeling it shows a child actor being held at gunpoint, which is qualitatively different, and in any case we don’t know the full fake story. It’s possible that this trio – call them the Labour family – are felons who have just perpetrated a violent heist, and that their implied surrender is in fact to national protector Rishi Sunak, who is training a vegan stun gun on them just out of shot, or is perhaps threatening to simply debate them into submission. Did you watch it last night? I genuinely couldn’t face the last 20 minutes of it and it’s my job. Most of the country now feels like the girl in the nightclub picture, getting campaign messages shouted down our earholes whether we like it or not.

For nightclub bore Rishi Sunak, then, onwards with the surrender message. Lunchtime found him in Derbyshire, recording a single news clip in which he was once again forced to address the gambling scandal rocking the campaign. By way of an update on that, some candidates may now be under investigation by the Metropolitan police as well as the Gambling Commission, possibly even for misconduct in a public office. But we are still required to distinguish between bets that are bad (being allegedly based on inside knowledge) and bets that may simply be sad. Speaking of which, someone who admits to being the business minister in the current government turns out to have made a bet on the Conservatives to win the election. Maybe that was the growth strategy.

The news clip was not plain sailing. Had Sunak told his PPS, Craig Williams – one of the suspected gamblers, and a man he himself had said he was with every minute of every day – the date of the election? Not a question it was “right” for Sunak to answer with ongoing inquiries, etc etc. “You CANNOT prejudice an investigation,” Sky News’s Sam Coates repeatedly pointed out to him. “You absolutely can answer this question … you can only prejudice a jury trial.” “No,” Sunak bleated, also repeatedly, “it’s absolutely not right.” There was some other stuff, but I think at this point we can simply assume the prime minister’s answer to be a “yes”.

It is all becoming quite unwatchable. My apologies to the other home nations for this, but the longer England’s participation in any international football tournament goes on, the probability that it will become some kind of metaphor for the current state of British politics approaches one. And so it is that the prime minister’s campaign has become the only spectacle less appealing than England. Incredible to think that Sunak reportedly hoped before he called the election that there might be some sort of feelgood Euros bounce at this stage of proceedings. Instead, things have got so dire that there have been calls for both him and Gareth Southgate to resign not after but DURING their respective campaigns.

Meanwhile, it’s notable that pretty much every day now, Nigel Farage holds large rallies to which the general public are invited, a tactic that Labour and the Tories would both no doubt dismiss as strategically meaningless in terms of a win – but which does at least appear to show some kind of willingness to engage with the public. Both Starmer and Sunak’s parties have lost support during the campaign, according to the polls, yet you sense the tightly managed pseudo-event campaigning style is to their great relief. Neither looks as if they’d be remotely comfortable busking it with a big crowd of voters that might even – the horror! – contain the odd detractor.

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Instead, the prime minister in particular appears to have run an almost hermetically sealed campaign, emerging only to speak to journalists or participate in TV events, before retreating back into his helicopter or protective bubble. He may say he wants to fight for this country – but the evidence suggests he doesn’t even want to meet it.

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