Jumping jelly bean Rishi Sunak bounces into campaign mode

After his soaking outside Downing Street on Wednesday, the UK prime minister is far more jaunty as he visits England’s sturdy midlands

Britain’s prime minister Rishi Sunak emerged for his first election campaign event on Thursday not wearing a suit jacket. Possibly because it was still drying in the hot press after Wednesday’s announcement in the rain outside 10 Downing Street. Or perhaps he just wanted to appear like a man who meant business: jacket off, sleeves rolled up, ready for work.

There was a near-manic air to the Tory leader when he appeared early in the morning in a warehouse in Derbyshire in the English Midlands, where he held a question-and-answer session with workers. Giddy and full of jaunty answers, he sounded like he’d had too much espresso.

It was all a stark contrast to the drenched and downtrodden figure who had stunned Westminster the day before with the announcement of a snap election to be borne on the 4th of July. Thursday was more like jumping jelly bean Sunak, the energetic campaigner with a political mountain to climb and only six weeks to do it. His Conservative Party is 20 points behind Labour in the polls.

The venue was West Transport in Ilkeston, a family-owned logistics company. The business is located in an industrial area in the constituency of Erewash, which has for 14 years been considered a Tory safe seat, when such things existed. Now it is a Labour target on July 4th after the opposition party took control of the local council in municipal elections three weeks ago. The sitting Tory MP, Maggie Throup, was on-message as she welcomed Sunak, whom voters could pick to “stick to the plan” or “go back to square one” with Labour leader Keir Starmer.


The warehouse where Sunak held court was spookily spotless; staff later told journalists that they had spent 24 hours cleaning it before the prime minister’s arrival. They hadn’t known that he would call an election, they said. Tell us about it, said the assembled hacks.

About 40 workers in orange bibs gathered in a circle in the middle of the floor, facing the barrage of cameras and the journalists who, bleary-eyed, had come up from London on the red-eye train. Claire Coutinho, Sunak’s environment secretary, was also spotted in one of the carriages on the way up. There were no sightings of her rumoured ambition to be the first woman to be made chancellor of the exchequer.

Sunak sketched the basic shape of the Tories’ election pitch. When Britain was under the cosh of the pandemic, he said, “I was there to do what I could to help you.” As chancellor, he first rose to prominence for his freewheeling spending on Covid subsidies and furlough.

He argued that inflation was 11 per cent when he took over as prime minister in 2022 and had fallen to 2.3 per cent now. Wages were up, the economy was growing. Did the voters want to “risk that progress” by taking a chance on Labour? He claimed taxes would go up under Starmer.

Sunak argued Britain’s national security would be stronger under a Conservative government, and also warned that Starmer would scrap the Rwanda deportation scheme for illegal migrants.

“He [Starmer] will say anything to get into power,” claimed Sunak, saying what he had to, so as to cling on to it.

He fielded softball questions from warehouse workers on favoured Conservative talking points such as immigration and the economy – it later emerged that two of the questioners were Tory councillors. Then he met Mick.

Mick Shergold (68), a warehouse supervisor, said he had been waiting for a prostate scan on the National Health Service for 12 weeks, an eon for anyone afflicted with such painful problems. He said his wife had also been waiting three years for a scan for an unspecified condition. “What are you able to do about it?” he asked. Sunak didn’t have much of an answer for him.

“I haven’t seen my GP in four years,” the man later told journalists. “I can’t get past any of the receptionists.”

The first bit of good news for Sunak was that, for some reason, Shergold didn’t think the litany of NHS problems could be blamed on the man whose party had been running it for the last 14 years.

The second bit of good news for the prime minister was Shergold believed most problems with UK public services could be traced back to a surfeit of migrants putting a strain on resources, another of Sunak’s favourite talking points. “You can’t pour a pint into a half pint pot,” said Shergold.

In a hat-trick of good fortune, the third bit of welcome news for Sunak emerged once the Derbyshire campaign event had ended: Nigel Farage, the nemesis of the Tory party, had decided not to run for election on July 4th.

It wasn’t a bad morning for Sunak. He’ll need a lot more of them - and much beyond - to make a dent in Labour’s poll lead.