Are The Tories Running The Worst General Election Campaign Of All Time?

Rishi Sunak called the election in the middle of a rainstorm.
Rishi Sunak called the election in the middle of a rainstorm. Anadolu via Getty Images

The front page of this morning’s Daily Telegraph said it all.

The normally-loyal true blue paper had a very simple splash headline: Tory wipeout.

It was based on a Savanta poll which showed the Conservatives are on course to win just 53 seats on July 4, with even Rishi Sunak’s own constituency at risk of falling to Labour, who would have a Commons majority of 382.

If the poll is even remotely accurate, it will be comfortably the Tories’ worst ever election performance.

After the calamitous campaign the party has run since Rishi Sunak announced the election date a month ago, it would also be thoroughly deserved.

Asked to sum up the campaign so far, a senior Tory told HuffPost UK: “If I woke up on the morning of July 5 to find out that it had been an elaborate performance art piece instead of a genuine campaign, I would not be surprised.”

Here, HuffPost UK charts the gaffes, controversies and scandals which have beset the Conservatives over the past four weeks.

‘Things Can Only Get Wetter’

Number 10 can’t control the weather, but they do own an umbrella.

The image of Rishi Sunak standing in a rainstorm, his expensive suit soaked through as he informed voters they would go to the polls on July 4, may well come to define his time in office.

What’s more, his Downing Street statement was almost drowned out by protester Steve Bray playing the 1997 New Labour anthem ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ on Whitehall.

Still, the only way was up after that, right? Wrong.

A Titanic Gaffe

Just two days in the campaign, the prime minister had to endure the first of many embarrassing moments when - for reasons best known to themselves - Tory campaign chiefs sent him to Belfast’s Titanic Quarter for a photo op.

Whip smart local journalist James McCarthy inevitably asked him: “We are just yards away from where the Titanic was built and designed, are you captaining a sinking ship going into this election?”

The grim-faced PM completely ignored the joke and insisted “the plan is working”, when self-evidently it wasn’t.

During the same UK-wide tour, the PM was pictured under an ‘Exit’ sign on board his private jet, another image set to be rolled out when he is turfed out of Downing Street on July 5.

And while in Wales, he asked some voters whether they were looking forward to the European Championships, even though their country failed to qualify for the tournament.

The PM being photographed with an 'Exit' sign above his head was another avoidable gaffe.
The PM being photographed with an 'Exit' sign above his head was another avoidable gaffe. WPA Pool via Getty Images

D-Day Disaster

When the history books come to be written on the 2024 general election campaign, one enormous mis-step will overshadow everything.

The worst mistake of the Tory campaign - and quite possibly of any campaign, ever - was Sunak’s decision to leave the 80th anniversary commemoration for D-Day early.

The PM, along with leaders from around the world, had travelled to Normandy to pay tribute to the thousands who fought and died during the Allied invasion of mainland Europe which ultimately led to the defeat of Nazi Germany.

But as the likes of Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz stayed for the international part of the event in the afternoon, Sunak and his entourage headed back to London for a pre-arranged interview with ITV.

Foreign secretary David Cameron, who had made clear his misgivings about the decision, was instead left to represent the UK alongside the actual leaders of other nations.

As the political backlash grew, Sunak was forced into a humiliating apology. But by then, the damage had been done and any lingering hope the PM had of pulling off an unlikely election victory was finally extinguished.

Rishi Sunak meets with a D-Day veteran in Normandy. He later returned early to London.
Rishi Sunak meets with a D-Day veteran in Normandy. He later returned early to London. LUDOVIC MARIN via Getty Images

Sunak Denies He Is Resigning

Such was the furore caused by the D-Day row that Sunak had to take the unprecedented step of confirming he would not be resigning as Tory leader before the election even happened.

Asked if he had considered quitting, the PM said: “No of course not. I’m energised about the vision that we’re putting forward for the country.

“This campaign is not even halfway through yet, and I’m finding an enormous amount of support for the policies that we’re putting on the table.”

Veteran politics-watchers said it brought to mind Labour’s 1983 election campaign, when the party called an election to confirm that Michael Foot was still the leader. Margaret Thatcher went on to win a landslide.

Scottish Tory Leader Says He Is Resigning

Proving that Sunak wasn’t the only senior Tory having a nightmare campaign, Scottish party leader Douglas Ross took the novel approach of announcing he will quit if he is re-elected as an MP.

Ross - whose Moray seat was abolished following a boundary review - had earlier performed a major U-turn by announcing he would, after all, be standing for re-election in the neighbouring seat of Aberdeenshire North and Moray East.

His decision to take over from the previous candidate, David Duguid, caused an uproar as Duguid is currently in hospital being treated for a serious illness.

Ross, who is also a member of the Scottish Parliament, said he would quit Holyrood, and as party leader north of the border, if he is returned to Westminster.

Former Tory MPs Jump Ship 

To lose one outgoing Tory MP to another party is unfortunate, to lose two during an election campaign is very careless indeed.

Firstly, Lucy Allen said she would be backing the Reform UK candidate in her former Telford seat, leading to her suspension as a Conservative Party member.

Then, Mark Logan - who was only elected the Tory MP for Bolton North East in 2019 - said he was quitting the party and joining Labour.

A Conservative source said: “He has been lobbying No.10 for a peerage, so he didn’t have to bother with voters and has now jumped ship. People will reach their own conclusions as to his motivations.”

Betting The House

The one thing the Tory campaign had lacked until last week was a proper scandal.

Step forward, then, Craig Williams, Tory candidate and Sunak’s parliamentary aide before the election was called. He admitted having “a flutter” on the date of the election, just days before it was called.

After the Gambling Commission launched a probe, Williams said: “I don’t want it to be a distraction from the campaign, I should have thought how it looks.”

In a further twist, it emerged last night that one of Sunak’s close protection officers had been suspended from his job and is also being investigated over allegations that he, too, had put a bet on when the country will go to the polls.

Another bombshell came when the BBC revealed that a second Tory candidate, Laura Saunders, was also being investigated by the Gambling Commission. Her husband just happens to be Tony Lee, the Conservatives’ director of campaigns.

He took an “leave of absence” from his role yesterday, which is far from ideal when the campaign still has two weeks to run.