The UK press knows how to keep Rishi Sunak on his toes

Snoddy: The UK press knows how to keep Rishi Sunak on his toes

From ‘wally with the brolly’ to reactions to the national service proposal, newspapers are doing a fine job highlighting the absurdity of the government — whatever their political leaning.

As is well-known, the majority of the UK’s national newspapers support the Conservatives whatever and whoever is the leader of the day.

Both the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph posted instant endorsements of Rishi Sunak’s bid for a new term the moment the starting pistol was fired last Wednesday.

But all the press, whatever their political persuasion, as well as broadcasters, fully covered the debacle of Sunak’s first week of campaigning, with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Journalists, not least Tim Shipman of The Sunday Times, laid bare how the prime minister had told King Charles of his intentions without telling anyone else and then sprung it on his colleagues without consultation. There were reports of considerable anger and leaks of internal memos saying the Tory machine was ill-prepared for action.

They covered, with some delight, the bizarre images of the prime minister delivering his opening speech while being soaked by the rain. The possibility of an umbrella was passed up for fear, apparently, of being dubbed “the wally with the brolly”.

This was followed by what was portrayed as an informal meeting with workers at a biscuit distribution centre in Derby. The two people in high-visibility jackets that Sunak chose to take questions from both turned out to be Conservative councillors who didn’t work there.

Then it was off to Belfast, where Conservative organisers hit on the brilliant idea of taking the prime minister to the Titanic Quarter, feeding reporters the obvious question: is he presiding over a sinking ship?

Worth a thousand words

Photojournalists played their part with the help of dozy party organisers.

Sunak was pictured on board a private jet — paid for by Tory donors, itself not a great look — with a large exit sign behind him. Even better, there’s another outside a Morrisons with the PM’s head blocking out the middle of the brand name so the sign behind appeared to say “Moron”.

On Sunday, the “ordinary diners” in a restaurant meeting in Stanmore were exposed as Conservative supporters and councillors.

Well done to the journalists who exposed such minor falsehoods that nonetheless express important underlying truths.

In the words of the former Labour anthem, which blared out mercilessly in Downing Street as the rain fell on Sunak: Things can only get better.

Giving Labour a chance

Early polls taken after the announcement of the election suggested a Labour lead that had got even larger.

There were signs even in the nationals, which will support the Conservatives to the edge of doom, of giving Labour a chance to express its ideas.

The splash on Saturday’s Daily Mail was extraordinary. The top of the page was devoted to the “thoughts” of columnist Boris Johnson making the daft claim that “Starmer would be the most dangerous and left-wing Labour PM since the 1970s”.

Such a claim was rendered ridiculous by the main splash underneath — an exclusive interview with shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, who promised she would not “play fast and loose with your money” and pledged her belief in “sound money”.

On Sunday, the Tories were on to another policy plucked out of thin air: compulsory national service for 18-year-olds, either in the armed forces or charity work for one weekend a month.

By the next day, the Mail was having to report that the prime minister was fighting back after his plan was widely ridiculed, including by some of his colleagues. Meanwhile, the Telegraph accidentally put the boot in when links in that story called up lots of articles in the recent past demonstrating what an impractical thing national service was.

One unanswered question

The biggest outstanding question is which way Rupert Murdoch and The Sun, which have always backed the winner in general elections, will jump this time — and when.

There are modest signs that The Sun is gradually inching towards Labour while still hoping that a Labour lead of more than 20 points in the polls will start to melt.

The dichotomy was well illustrated by Trevor Kavanagh’s article on Monday claiming that while the Tories are “Labour lite”, Sun readers should fear the real thing. But the introduction to that very feature read: “Let’s face it… even Rishi Sunak cannot realistically believe he will be prime minister after 4 July.”

Does The Sun really still believe?

The most likely outcome is a very late, grudging deathbed conversion by The Sun when all hope for Sunak has finally faded.

Raymond Snoddy is a media consultant, national newspaper columnist and former presenter of NewsWatch on BBC News. He writes for The Media Leader on Wednesdays — read his column here.

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