Furore over Rishi Sunak missing D-Day event is overblown

8 June 2024, 07:28 | Updated: 8 June 2024, 15:50

Rishi Sunak has sparked outrage with his decision to skip a D-Day ceremony
Rishi Sunak has sparked outrage with his decision to skip a D-Day ceremony. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Do you really care that Rishi Sunak didn't attend one of the D-Day 80th anniversary commemoration events?

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Your response might be 'yes, it's a disgrace - he showed a lack of respect to the old soldiers who fought for Western freedom'.

But did he? He attended events beforehand over the two-day anniversary programme, gave speeches, and shook hands and talked with veterans.

Somewhat unusually for Mr Sunak, he looked quite sincerely engaged and even moved when he spoke with veterans alongside his wife.

He missed the international ceremony, and was not part of a photo opportunity with world leaders afterwards - replaced instead by David Cameron, the Foreign Secretary and former Prime Minister.

Mr Sunak was right to apologise, especially if veterans or their families felt offended by his decision.

But all this has been artfully spun by Labour, who have quite predictably (and, on a tactical level, very sensibly), piled in on Mr Sunak.

Keir Starmer has even questioned the Prime Minister's character.

But really, what the discussion has centred on is 'the optics'.

Pundits have queued up to call the decision an own-goal, a blunder, a PR disaster. This commentary is largely about how an imagined voter will perceive the decision.

At the time of writing, at least two major news sites had as their top story a write-up of Nigel Farage calling Mr Sunak's D-Day decision his 'Gillian Duffy moment'.

I would bet that most people don't remember Gillian Duffy, or if so, only vaguely; Gordon Brown branding her a bigoted woman was an important moment in an election campaign 14 years ago.

It gives everyone something easy to talk about. We can convince ourselves that someone, somewhere feels outraged about it.

The story certainly serves a wider function: it reinforces a sense of the inevitable about Mr Sunak - that his election campaign is doomed.

What should not be forgotten is the true sacrifice and bravery of those who lost their lives - not political point scoring.


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