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Fisherman’s Blues

June 12th 2024

In the fishing town of Grimsby, where the 1977-2015 MP briefly changed his name to ‘Haddock’ as a vote winner, the party leaders angled for victory in their second TV appearance of this election campaign.

Taking place only an hour after the Gambling Commission opened an investigation into Rishi Sunak’s key aide’s allegedly fishy bets, tonight’s debate was described by Sophy Ridge as Starmer’s to lose. And that was right. With a lead as big as Starmer’s it was up to him to bellyflop to really redirect the tide. He didn’t, therefore however much one might have liked or disliked any of his answers, he won this feeding frenzy.


It was ironic that tonight’s debate was on Sky – one of many luxuries that Sunak recently claimed he was denied as a child - playing into a Labour narrative about his wealth and his distance from ordinary people. Tonight, Sunak desperately needed to change tack and deliver tight lines. He didn’t, therefore the waters in this election remain becalmed.

Opening, Starmer - with questions from Sky Political Editor Beth Rigby - promised a sea change from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party (a recurring motif throughout this campaign) re-committing to a ‘country first’ approach and suggesting that he no longer agrees with the more radical ten pledges on which he stood for the Leadership. The allegation, of course, being that he catfished as a socialist during his Leadership campaign only to reveal that he was a running dogfish (sorry!) of capitalism after all.

Among an array of questions and comments about the two-child benefit cap or about how people think he’s “boring and stiff”, Starmer looked most pained when asked about his biggest fears: the impact on his teenage children. Throughout, he was also keen to reiterate his direct experience - as a working-class boy, as a public servant, as the husband of an NHS worker.

In the end, Starmer’s central message at this election is that the waters need to be changed. He prosecuted this relentlessly.

“It is a broken system”, was Keir’s refrain, and it is a message that went down (mostly) well with the audience in the studio and very well with the audience at home - who cited him the winner.

Sunak, now desperate not to get battered with the Tories so low in the polls, was asked about how fourteen years of his governments’ failures could be justified.

“We’ve been through a tough time – of course we have – it's been tough for everyone here watching,” Sunak floundered, after issuing an apology for leaving D-Day commemorations early, and not making a direct reference to those struggling with the increased cost of living.

As Grimbarians (sometimes colloquially known as “codheads”) and the general public finally grilled the Prime Minister, he was asked about mortgages, the NHS and policing. Indeed, he was even asked for a fact about him that might make people like him more. Answering that he has an “appalling diet” unconvincingly, he looked like a fish out of water among a room of people who likely haven’t made the Sunday Times Rich List.

Prior to his boss’s appearance, Home Secretary James Cleverly mockingly wrote “Sir Keir Squirmer” on X - in an attempt (which we would never do, we know our plaice) to make a pun - it was rather more wit and style than either his boss or Keir managed this evening. Both had their anchors down and stuck to their predetermined course.

Given that it is now halfway through the General Election campaign, tonight was probably one of the last opportunities that the Tories have to prove themselves to the public, and instead they’ve seemingly hung themselves out to dry. Postal ballots will be flipping and flapping through letterboxes next week. Hard to see how the Tories can add much to their net.