Rishi the ‘underdog’ must get out of his comfort zone to get his message across


Rishi Sunak is presenting himself as the underdog in this campaign.

In many ways it’s remarkable that a prime minister can position like this, but the 20-point poll deficit means he feels he has no alternative. But can he pull it off?

He knows the job of the next six weeks is to change minds – to reintroduce himself to the British public and alter the way people think about him, which at this point in his premiership after 14 years of Tories in Number 10 is no mean feat.

He is the one that has to shake up the conversation.

But having followed his campaign across three of the four nations of the United Kingdom, on planes trains and wheels, it’s rather unclear whether the campaign is set up to deliver this… whether he’s taking a big enough risk with his approach.

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The message at events is clear enough – Sunak is claiming he has returned economic and political stability after a difficult period, Labour offer uncertainty, and the challenges at home and abroad are growing.

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But he has been delivering a variation of this message for some weeks. What is not clear yet is that there’s a plan to get people paying attention.

The campaign events themselves are shaved of any jeopardy. Despite the distances travelled – over 1,000 miles on day one alone – he is meeting remarkably few people.

The event with workers involved a short monologue followed by a handful of polite questions from the invited audience, some of whom turned out to be Conservative councillors.

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Visits to businesses – such as the brewery visit by our teetotal PM – seem remarkably brief and involve the PM making small talk and watching bits of machinery being operated by experts, for no immediately obvious political benefit.

When John Major confounded the polls and beat Neil Kinnock’s Labour party in 1992 he climbed on his soap box and had hundreds of raw, unmediated conversations with the public.

He ended up being jostled in shopping centres and arguing with crowds. It helped cement his image.

Theresa May had a difficult and uneasy relationship with campaigning, that probably worked to her detriment, while Boris Johnson clearly enjoyed crowds delivering the biggest majority in 2019 since Margaret Thatcher.

Sunak’s reputation is being slick and controlled – but this version of the prime minister is the one currently languishing in the polls.

Could throwing himself into more unusual situations, taking more risks for more reward, help in the coming weeks?

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