28 hours later

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been infected with the deadly Rage Virus


“I am trying to answer the question and you’re already interrupting me!” Fifteen hours into the general election, the Tories had decided to put Snippy Rishi at the heart of their campaign. Presumably focus groups have shown that what the electorate wants over its cornflakes is to listen to a very rich but also very tetchy man complaining about how unfair everything is on him.

It’s clear that the Conservative strategy is to make the election a referendum on the prime minister’s personality. The explanation for this superficially baffling decision is probably that Sunak is, in private, charming and likeable. This has, it must be said, been true in my limited experience. Doubtless this is how those around him see him.

The prime minister only became more irritated

Unfortunately, his public persona is that of a tired man who has spent an hour trying to navigate an automated switchboard in order to return some trousers because they are too short. Perhaps this man is still grumpy that he got soaked to the skin last night after he went out in the rain without a coat. “No, no, no, Nick that is simply not right,” he told the BBC’s Nick Robinson, when challenged about whether EU countries really are planning to copy his Rwanda plan. “And, BY THE WAY, if you read the statement that was put out by all these European countries, they’re VERY CLEAR.”

Robinson tried asking him about his pledge last year to cut waiting lists. “They haven’t fallen as much as I would have liked,” Sunak conceded.

The BBC man shot back: “They haven’t fallen at all!”

Sunak had an answer ready: “If it wasn’t for the industrial action, they would have fallen by half a million.” This is unanswerable. Though if it wasn’t for people getting sick, there wouldn’t be any waiting lists.

What about the flights to Rwanda, on which so much energy has been expended, and which we have been repeatedly assured would eliminate the small boat arrivals at a stroke? For some reason, Sunak thinks he stands a better chance with voters if they don’t get to test that proposition by actually seeing a flight take off. Instead the flights now won’t go until after the election. “If you care about that issue, I’m the one that’s going to deliver on it for you,” Sunak promised. And it is indeed the case that if your number one election priority is to spend hundreds of millions of public money to send an asylum seeker to Rwanda, you should vote Conservative.

The prime minister only became more irritated when Robinson asked whether he was going to make personal attacks on Keir Starmer. Recent Tory election campaigns have done rather well out of these, with Michael Fallon devoting a press conference to whether Ed Miliband was a good brother, and Boris Johnson spending a broadcast round calling Jeremy Corbyn a “mugwump”. That one was particularly effective because most of the words you might use to describe Johnson are unbroadcastable before the watershed. Would the Conservatives, Robinson wanted to know, adopt such tactics again?

We’re one day into the campaign and the prime minister already sounds like he wants to punch an interviewer

There was a long pause while Sunak thought about this. The Labour leader was, he eventually replied, “assuming that he can waltz into Downing Street and take the British public for granted”. From a man who became prime minister without even winning his own party’s endorsement, it was amazing.

Finally, Robinson got to the circus of elephants that were crowded into the studio. After the mess of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, the lies, the resignations, the sackings, the reversals, the parties, the, well, chaos, “why on earth should people give the Conservatives another term?”

By the clock the silence only lasted two seconds, but my goodness it felt longer. Tumbleweed seemed to roll out of our radios and across the kitchen floor. “Well,” the prime minister said at last, sounding so very much like a teenager furious at having been caught on his PlayStation the day before his Physics A-Level, “if you want to focus on 49 days of the last Conservative government…”

The Tory plan, we’re told, is to demand weekly debates between Sunak and Starmer. Labour should ask for them to be daily or hourly. We’re one day into the campaign and the prime minister already sounds like he wants to punch an interviewer. If he gets through the next six weeks without smashing something, it will be a miracle.

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