top of page

D-Day for Sunak?

7 June 2024
| by Field Team

Feel for Penny Mordaunt this afternoon. The Commons Leader – and Tory leadership hopeful – is making her first major intervention in the campaign tonight. Unfortunately for Mordaunt, Rishi Sunak has left her an almighty mess to clean up.

Sunak’s decision to leave the D-Day commemorations early yesterday afternoon caused ripples in advance. Why would the Premier delegate such a powerful moment, an opportunity to appear alongside President Biden and other world leaders on Omaha Beach, to David Cameron? The revelation his apparent excuse was to pre-record an interview with ITV set a bomb underneath the Tory campaign.

As the Field View goes to pixel, the ramifications of this are still emerging. Sunak has issued an apology on X already in an effort to stem the damage and he has taken part in an excruciatingly tense TV interview, with others likely to follow. Meanwhile there is fury amongst Tory candidates, ministers and activists, and glee from Labour, Reform and the Lib Dems.

This could easily be remembered as Sunak’s “bigoted woman” moment of the campaign, re-calling the final blow to Gordon Brown’s hopes in 2010 when he was caught on an open mic dismissing Labour voter Gillian Duffy.

How can Mordaunt possibly respond? She will be on stage tonight alongside Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner, Reform leader Nigel Farage and a cast of others from the Lib Dems, SNP and Plaid Cymru. There will be nowhere to hide.

First, she’ll have to repeat the Prime Minister’s apology. Nothing less than a fulsome acceptance of the offence caused by leaving early will do. Mordaunt is fighting for her political life in Portsmouth North but as a serving Navy Reservist has more credibility than most in standing up for military veterans.

Second, does she go further and actually criticise her boss? The temptation will be high – with the Tories already in deep, deep electoral trouble, Mordaunt has had one eye on the future for some time. Could she try something like saying, “It’s welcome the Prime Minister has apologised and it’s right he has done so. Of course this should never have happened in the first place, and I’ve made clear to Rishi it must never happen again”? If she goes in too hard, she’ll spend the rest of the debate justifying whether she still backs him to be Prime Minister.

Third, Mordaunt will need to duck and run under other issues. Expect to hear her double down on how Labour have got no plan, how a vote for Reform is effectively a vote for Keir Starmer to be Prime Minister. The format of the debate will help her: if she can soak up the punches, there will be six other people scrambling to be heard and a raft of other policy issues up for grabs.

For the rest of the panel tonight’s debate has also changed. Rayner now has a shield against criticism she is softer than Stamer on national security and nuclear weapons. Farage can double down on his mission to destroy the Tory party. Daisy Cooper (Lib Dem), Stephen Flynn (SNP), Carla Denyer (Green) and Rhun ap Iorwerth (Plaid) all now have a new talking point as they try to rise above the fray.

Grab your popcorn and tune in from 7.30pm on BBC One.

(Photo provided by Getty Images)

bottom of page