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Rishi Sunak’s D-Day blunder exposes a deep rot in the Conservative election campaign – Politics.co.uk

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In the most striking moment of the election campaign so far, Rishi Sunak was forced to apologise this morning after leaving D-Day commemorations early on Thursday to film a pre-recorded interview for ITV.

The PM’s statement of regret hit X/Twitter at 7.45 a.m — read that in full here.

The reasoning behind the swift apology is simple: No 10 had deemed Sunak’s indefensible, and so they did not even try to defend it. But unfortunately for Sunak and the Conservative Party, whose fate his missteps shape, the PM’s D-Day disaster refuses to abate.

In the immediate term, the episode has undermined Tory efforts to focus on childcare today; in a policy announcement trailed overnight, the party proposed to raise the threshold at which families pay the Child Benefit Tax Charge from £60,000 to £120,000. (Story here).

But Sunak’s D-Day disaster is far more significant than any single day’s news agenda. It is, in the end, the worst possible look for a prime minister so profoundly exposed to attacks on his traditionalist, right flank.

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As such, in the last 24 hours, no politician has seized as aggressively on Sunak’s D-Day furore than one Nigel Farage. Yesterday afternoon, when it first emerged that the PM was flying back from Normandy, the Reform chief was fastest to take Sunak to task on X/Twitter: “The Prime Minister has ducked out of the international D-Day event to fly back to the UK to campaign. I am here in Normandy in a personal capacity because I think it matters. Does he?”

It was the first of a series of Sunak-bashing tweets; indeed, once it was confirmed that PM had ducked to record a scheduled ITV News interview on Thursday, the Reform leader added: “Rishi Sunak could not even be bothered to attend the international event above Omaha Beach. Who really believes in our people, him or me?”

Then, after reports emerged (denied by No 10) that Sunak had not initially intended to attend the commemorations at all, Farage continued: “Now we learn that Rishi Sunak’s original plan was not to attend the D-Day 80th at all. Patriotic people who love their country should not vote for him”.

Farage is due to appear on the BBC’s election debate tonight, alongside leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt and representatives from the other major parties. Expect him to hammer this message home. After this row, a Reform-Conservative “crossover” — whereby Farage’s party surpasses Sunak’s in at least one poll between now and the election — has never looked more likely.

The bottom line of the PM’s D-Day disaster is this: Sunak has focussed his election campaign so far on trying to shore up the Conservative Party’s base and win back traditionalist, nationalistic voters from Reform. Assuming (generously) that some gains had been made with the recent national service announcement, for instance — after the D-Day furore, any advances will have been entirely squandered. In future interviews and debates, of course, any reference the PM makes to his flagship policy to boost national pride will be swiftly undermined by the mention of his electioneering yesterday.

Since penning his initial apology this morning, Sunak has now further reflected on his “mistake” with an on-camera interview. Explaining his absence yesterday, the defeated-looking PM said: “The itinerary for these events was set weeks ago before the start of the general election campaign and having participated in all the British events with British veterans I returned home before the international leaders’ event later in the day. On reflection, that was a mistake and I apologise.”

He added: “I think it’s important, though, given the enormity of the sacrifice made, that we don’t politicise this. The focus should rightly be on the veterans who gave so much.”

Labour land

Meanwhile, 100 of Labour’s most powerful figures have arrived to sign off the party’s manifesto in private in London. The party’s “Clause V” meeting involves individuals handing in their phones on arrival and receiving numbered and watermarked copies of the manifesto.

Labour’s top brass will then go through the manifesto section by section with attendees raising amendments and speaking in favour or against before a vote. The official launch follows next Thursday.

Lunchtime briefing

Conservative Party pledges £1,500 tax cut for parents with child benefit shake-up

Lunchtime soundbite

‘There are many people across the country, especially within Armed Forces communities, who feel betrayed and feel that Britain has been let down by the prime minister’

—  John Healey, the shadow defence secretary, writes to Grant Shapps to ask a series of questions about Rishi Sunak’s decision to leave D-Day commemorations early.

Now try this…

The death of the UK Conservative Party
Politico’s Esther Webber writes that Britain’s ‘natural party of government’ is facing a defeat so dramatic it may not survive.

Douglas Ross faces revolt by Tory MSPs over ‘terrible’ decision to stand for Westminster

The Daily Record reports.

Rishi Sunak’s D-Day departure was far worse than a gaffe
The New Statesman’s George Eaton argues that the PM made a crude attempt to seek political advantage by leaving early. (Paywall)

On this day in 2022:

Boris Johnson wins no-confidence vote—what now?

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