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HomeNewsAfter Sunak's D-Day Nightmare, Are The Tories Heading For An 'Extinction-Level Event'?

After Sunak’s D-Day Nightmare, Are The Tories Heading For An ‘Extinction-Level Event’?

Despite many opinion polls suggesting otherwise, the consensus view in Westminster earlier this week was that the Conservative Party would avoid complete meltdown on July 4.

Sure, the Tories would lose – and probably lose badly – but they would more than likely return enough MPs to make a decent fist of opposition in the next parliament.

That was until Rishi Sunak inexplicably decided to leave Thursday’s D-Day commemorations early.

With leaders from around the globe, including Joe Biden, gathering in Normandy to mark the 80th anniversary of the Allied invasion of mainland Europe, the prime minister opted to return home to the UK midway through.

The sight of foreign secretary David Cameron – rather than the PM – standing alongside the US president, his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Olaf Scholz, caused blind fury among Tory MPs.

How could a Tory leader trying to woo the pensioner vote will dealing with the threat posed by Nigel Farage’s Reform UK have scored such an obvious own goal, they asked.

What’s more, Sunak’s early exit was not due to urgent matters of state or a family crisis, but to sit down with ITV to record an election interview not due to be broadcast until next week.

A clip was posted on X last night showing the PM – in the same suit and tie as earlier in the day but having removed his poppy lapel badge – having to deny lying about Labour’s tax plans.

Tory bosses refused to comment when asked if that was why he had returned early from France, thereby confirming that the story was true.

It doesn’t take a political genius to realise that the sight of a prime minister leaving an event at which wheelchair-bound British veterans remained in attendance is not a great look in an election campaign, or indeed at any time.

The backlash was swift and brutal, and led to the PM being forced to make a grovelling apology on Friday morning.

“After the conclusion of the British event in Normandy, I returned back to the UK,” the PM said. “On reflection, it was a mistake not to stay in France longer – and I apologise.”

But by then, the damage was already done.

One Tory aide said: “Who on earth made the decision he should leave? They need to be sacked. It’s not as if he needed to come back and deal with an emergency. He’s just given up.”

A senior party figure told HuffPost UK: “It’s just awful. Cataclysmically bad.

“Trying to staunch the flow to Reform on the one hand while disrespecting the war dead on the other. Some might say that is a confused strategy.”

Farage and his insurgent party are now poised to overtake the Conservatives in the opinion polls – an event which could well trigger a full-blown nervous breakdown among the party’s election candidates.

David Camero stood in for Sunak at the D-Day commemoration at Omaha beach alongside world leaders.

Patrick van Katwijk via Getty Images

Labour insiders were equally flabbergasted by the PM’s decision, which allowed Keir Starmer to look prime ministerial as he met with, among others, King Charles and Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“The PM came back early from the D-Day commemorations to tell people he’s not a liar – it is absolutely stunning,” said one source close to the Labour leader.

Chris Hopkins, director of pollsters Savanta, told HuffPost UK the Tories are on course for disaster on July 4.

“Several weeks ago, I would’ve said that while the Conservative Party were in deep trouble, reports of their demise had been over-stated,” he said. “I’m increasingly convinced that this election could be an extinction-level event for the Conservatives, and if enough Conservative MPs agree, who knows what is going to happen before polling day.

“The difference between then and now is two things; the first is the defensive nature of the Conservative campaign, which looks squarely aimed at holding onto core constituencies above all else.

“The bigger reason though is the return of Nigel Farage to frontline politics as leader of Reform UK. I’m on record saying I’ve been sceptical about Reform’s ability to win actual elections, due to their lack of campaigning ability and funds. And while I still only expect them to be able to win a very small number of MPs, the damage they can do to the Conservatives is massive.”

Hopkins said there are “dozens if not scores” of now-marginal seats where a significant vote for Reform could let Labour through the middle.

In short, Farage could be the main reason there are 100 rather than 150 Conservative MPs, and therefore a key factor in the future of the most successful election machine in history,” he added.

Sunak’s D-Day debacle is another factor which has left the Tories facing wipeout across the country.

Hopkins said it showed the PM and his closest advisers “aren’t politically astute”.

“The controversy just shows poor judgement, and it isn’t the first time,” he said.

“I’ve said for weeks the polls may not narrow in the way people expected because Sunak is such a poor campaigner, and we’re seeing that play-out in real time, while any pitch to Reform UK voters is naturally going to take a big hit if you’re perceived to be disrespecting veterans.”

Luke Tryl, UK director of the More in Common think-tank, said the D-Day gaffe was “the worst possible thing that could have happened to the prime minister and to the Conservatives’ election prospects”.

“They were already looking in the face of electoral annihilation with Nigel Farage’s decision to get involved, but more importantly than that, the significant Labour lead which doesn’t look to be narrowing.

“But what this event will have done is particularly irked those voters whom the Tories desperately needed to get back to stave off that catastrophic electoral defeat.”

He added: “It’s as bad as it can get and unless things turn around we could well be heading for their worst electoral result, certainly in the last century.”

However, polling expert and Tory peer Robert Hayward said talk of a Conservative wipeout is “grotesquely overstated”.

He pointed to recent council by-election results which have shown the Tory vote going up as evidence of the party’s enduring popularity.

“My view is clearly that the Labour lead is not what it is presumed to be,” he said. “I’’m not saying it disappears, but it’s not what it appears to be.

“When people are actually casting their votes, they’re casting them much more favourably for the Tories.

“It’s reflective of the sheer fluidity of the opinion polls we’ve seen this week. In every single poll, even though the Conservatives are down, the Labour vote has actually fallen by a bigger percentage.

“People are not sold on Labour. There are are still a lot of voters looking for a home.”

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