Dad’s army

We’re all doomed


“As you can see, I’m working my socks off!” Rishi Sunak told another group of baffled workers, this time gathered in a hangar in Devon. We looked, but his socks were still on. We could see this because as ever his trousers were a good inch too short.

Where is his sense of fun?

Sunak’s trousers are a great mystery to us all. This is a man with a £750 backpack and £500 shoes, and yet his suits stop well short of his shoes. My teenage years involved endlessly growing out of clothes, forever trying to reduce the huge areas of ankle visible between hem and trainer, so I find the prime minister’s wardrobe very triggering. The impression is of someone who suddenly shot up just after his parents did the big school shop. It is impossible to look at him without thinking that his mum should have allowed a bit more room for growth.

Not, it should be clear, that Sunak is taking schoolboyish delight in his election tour. The business he was visiting makes all-terrain vehicles for desert warfare, and he duly sat in the driving seat of one. But though photographers begged him to jump into the gun turret, he grimly refused. Where is his sense of fun? Elsewhere in the country, Ed Davey was showing off riding a bike, having spent Tuesday falling off a paddle board. There’s a man who is treating the campaign as one long Outward Bound course. I couldn’t approve more. After the prime minister had left, we sketchwriters took turns to climb into the gun turret, and it was brilliant.

Where Prime Ministers fear to tread, sketchwriters rush in

What did everyone else make of it? The audiences at these prime ministerial speech stops can be divided between those who have lost count of how many times they’ve heard the man say that he has a bold plan and Keir Starmer doesn’t, and those who are meeting a prime minister for probably the only time in their life. Did those guys look excited? Not obviously. It probably doesn’t help that they will have been waiting for him for ages. They stood around chatting, and every so often a sudden hush would fall over the room, before everyone would realise that nothing was imminent.

Eventually he arrived, full of enthusiasm. We got the patter: dangerous world, defence spending, stick with the plan. There was a direct appeal: “It’s been difficult, the last few years,” he said. “I hope that you saw through that that I had your back.” Please remember 2020 (but not Barnard Castle or parties) and please forget 2021 to 2023.

Perhaps, being in the military line, they’re used to keeping secrets

He is always speaking to two groups at these events: those in the room, and those who may catch a clip of it on the evening news. Some of the time he was turned to the people who were with him, but for most of the time, he was addressing the cameras, speaking to a point a foot above the BBC political editor’s head. What did the people present make of it? Their faces were stone. Perhaps, being in the military line, they’re used to keeping secrets. You could torture them to ask what they thought of the prime minister’s bold plan, and all you’d get is their job title and national insurance number.

Quite a lot of the speech was devoted to attacking the Labour leader. Starmer had got no plan, and Sunak had got his people to add the cost of that plan up and it was billions of pounds. The prime minster went on: he’d been personally announcing policies every day, and from Starmer we’d heard “not a single new idea.” There may be a reason for that. I think it was Napoleon who said: “Never interrupt your enemy when he’s punching himself repeatedly in the face.”

There was a new note, an acknowledgement that things aren’t necessarily developing to the Tories’ advantage. People were telling him the election was a “foregone conclusion”, Sunak said, but “I don’t think the British people like being taken for granted.” There was perhaps a certain amount of taking for granted going on when Downing Street staff partied through lockdown, but it didn’t seem the moment to mention it.

We came to questions. Daniel, one of the staff, pointed out that Sunak had policies for young people — though they largely involve closing universities and making them work for free on the weekends — and policies to stuff the mouths of pensioners with gold, but “a lot of people are bang in the middle — what are you going to be doing for us?” A small cheer went up from the working stiffs on the press bench.

Sunak was ready, of course. Look at inflation, he said. “It was 11 per cent when I first got this job, with all the impact it had on your bills.” Not any more, oh no. “We are making enormous progress now,” he went on. “Remember how hard it’s been.”

Again, we were being asked not to interrogate too closely who had been in charge before Sunak got there, or indeed where he’d been working himself. But that’s the Conservative pitch in the nutshell: they’re the only people you can trust to clear up the mess made by those awful Tories.

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