Express & Star

The rain would have stayed clear of Mrs T – Toby Neal column

Don't worry, they must have said, it's only a bit of drizzle. So Rishi Sunak went out in the rain. And Rishi got rained on.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak issues his statement in the rain

It wouldn't have happened to Margaret Thatcher. The rain wouldn't have dared.

Boris Johnson would have revelled in the rain and made all hilarious. It's like the storm which fell on the Carthusian commander on the eve of their glorious triumph against the Assyrians at Thermopylae in 56 BC, he would have said. Or something like that (historians, please don't bother writing in).

Even Liz Truss would have taken a brolly.

The sun shone in 1987 when Margaret Thatcher won a third term as Prime Minister

Rishi Sunak has fired the general election starting gun, not with a bang, but with a muted pop followed by a damp flag swinging out with "Don't Throw It Away" written on it.

That will obviously not apply to his ruined suit. There again, he will have plenty of others.

It has to have been one of the worst starts to a general election campaign for years, a spin doctor's nightmare.

As Rishi became increasingly sodden, he had a weary air of defeat, and things haven't even got under way properly yet.

Inspirational and galvanising are just two words which don't describe his announcement outside Downing Street, or Drowning Street as wags have renamed it. A decent chap, but not the sort to get the pulses racing on the hustings. Politicians can't control the weather, but they can use it. Rishi merely submitted to the elements and got wetter and wetter.

To be fair, a hot cup of cocoa and a towel down seems to have done some good in uplifting his spirits since.

His pitch was that he was the man who held our hand during the Covid pandemic and now Britain is at last on the right track, so don't let Labour ruin it.

Rishi's little speech was almost drowned out by the scrawling in the background of scores of Tory MPs updating their CVs.

There are various theories about why he has chosen now. Inflation is down, which is welcome, but is not the sort of thing to cut the mustard on the doorstep. Maybe Rishi just wants to get it over with and get in a summer holiday afterwards. In any event, as the expectation is that the Tories are going to lose whatever, he has nothing to lose.

The campaign might surprise us, but on current form we have to expect it to be dull, a tawdry beauty contest between two parties with little to choose between them on the policy front, unless Labour comes up with something radical when drawing up its manifesto, like planting billions of trees.

Not that manifestos are worth the paper they are written on. Promise today, forget tomorrow.

The good news for the Tories, such as it is, is that they can relax, as they have the stress-free advantage of being the underdog of whom little is expected. Sir Keir Starmer has everything going for him – demoralised opponents, a seemingly winning lead in the polls, and the SNP tide in retreat north of the border.

But the public is going to expect something more from Labour than a banal chant that we need "change."

They do have one interesting policy. They want to build new towns, like Milton Keynes, says Angela Rayner (no pun intended). Coming to green fields near you soon. Who could complain about thousands of new houses being built in the rural landscape?

Angela Rayner

You do hear the argument that there is plenty of land available in the countryside on which to build houses, but it tends to come from people who live in London.

This is one of the elements of the general election which probably won't feature in the campaign, but has the potential to affect us here in the Midlands. It is the extent to which Sir Keir Starmer's Labour has, or has not, broken away from being a London-centric party infused with a London mindset. It was one reason why Labour lost so badly in 2019.

Despite what you may think, Milton Keynes wasn't named after anybody, although Telford was.

They will need new names for Labour's new towns. Rayner New Town does have a certain ring.

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