Rishi Sunak came to Wales but no voters would actually have known

Rishi Sunak tours the brewery alongside Alun Cairns, David TC Davies, and Andrew RT Davies
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)


He came, he saw, it's highly unlikely he conquered.

Rishi Sunak arrived in Wales to launch his election campaign but, short of the handful of staff who work at the Vale of Glamorgan Brewery, the people of Wales are unlikely to have ever known until they saw the pictures on the news or their Facebook feed. Rather than take the Prime Minister to, say, the town his driver actually skirted around on his way from the airport, or an event with the activists who are rapidly cancelling their holidays to campaign for him, or, God forbid, to meet some actual voters, it was decided to bring the Prime Minister to an industrial estate in Barry.

By announcing a general election on July 4 Rishi Sunak shocked a nation, created a lifetime of memes of a sopping wet man stood in the street, and also inflicted six-weeks of these glorified photo opportunities on us all.

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Very little of these visits is left to chance. The rules are well-rehearsed and you comply; or you don't attend and get your 30-40 seconds of eye contact with the minister who has been specially shipped out of SW1.

Invited media were told to arrive at noon with a list of rules spelled out. No photography or video – that will come from Number 10. No live reporting. No mention of the visit until the PM has left (although his other two stops in Derbyshire and Scotland were heavily trailed). No questions about national issues.

The only sign we were in the right industrial unit was the line of orange cones blocking off the car park and, when you looked closely, the security man with the coil of his earpiece on show. The online and radio journalists were ushered up some stairs to an empty office about 20 minutes before the Prime Minister arrived. This time we could at least be grateful there was at least an open window to loiter by. The scars of the time Boris Johnson's people thought putting a lot of hot and bothered journalists in a chicken shed passed me by as the waft of stale beer came through the window.

The Prime Minister is teetotal. He was taken to a brewery for a campaign event where the only people present were a handful of staff. One image captured by Getty shows the number of cameras outnumbering those invited to speak to the Prime Minister, the secretary of state for Wales, and the Conservative candidate for the Vale of Glamorgan.

Members of the media look on as Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Rishi Sunak speaks with brewery workers at Vale of Glamorgan Brewer
Members of the media look on as Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Rishi Sunak speaks with brewery workers at Vale of Glamorgan Brewer -Credit:Getty Images

"Beer tax. Business rates. Small businesses," a Tory aide shouted at me in some sort of policy Tourette's when I asked him why they had brought a teetotal man to an industrial estate without any people for him to meet.

On top of that the candidate he was there to offer his support to was Alun Cairns, a man who set the 2019 campaign off to appalling start when he finally bowed to pressure and quit the cabinet the day the previous election campaign started over questions about what he knew about a collapsed rape trial involving his aide.

Since being re-elected Mr Cairns has taken thousands of pounds of gifts from the authoritarian state of Qatar but he's also been given special status by the party as part of its "80:20" strategy for the next election: focusing resources on the 80 most marginal seats that the Conservatives currently hold alongside the top 20.

Logistics saw the Vale seat selected for this, the most orchestrated of visits, in that there was a nearby airfield for the Prime Minister's plane to land. The aim was clear. A revved-up Prime Minister being seen out and about showing he is ready to win and showing he cares about all corners of the UK.

Aside from the broadcasters and their teams and the brewery staff the only other people there were Tory staffers (you could spot them thanks to the fleece gilets or padded jackets). At 12.21pm a coachload of national journalists arrived with cameramen carrying their kit exit the steps. Reporters alighted too and some familiar faces pulled up asking "is it a brewery? In south Wales?" as they went on air.

You can't blame them – they are facing six weeks of being hoarded onto and off that coach arriving at a different postcode without their own dedicated press officer telling them where they are before they disembark.

Three minutes later the first police outrider, followed by another, and the two Range Rovers. As the security detail open doors the Prime Minister exits, making a beeline for Alun Cairns who received a hug, with pats on the back for David TC Davies, one of his cabinet.

Rishi Sunak with his Welsh Conservative colleagues David TC Davies, Alun Cairns, and Andrew RT Davies
Rishi Sunak with his Welsh Conservative colleagues David TC Davies, Alun Cairns, and Andrew RT Davies -Credit:Getty Images

"I'm Rishi. Nice to see you – thanks for having us. Day one. Alun's been raving about you," the PM says as he greets someone from the brewery, then pointing and waving to "everyone up there". I can't tell you how many were there because, as is the way with these visits, we're not allowed to actually see the visit.

The worry for the press team is that someone confronts their, minister asks him something he isn't prepared for, or trips over a barrel. In short control is the name of the game.

Unfortunately they hadn't briefed the Prime Minister of that. So he was captured on camera asking a room full of Welsh people if they were looking forward to the Euros. Sorry Rishi – wrong country. Poland stopped us in our tracks there.

So after about half an hour of being sat in the office we were asked to move downstairs so the PM could have the room to prepare before giving interviews to both BBC Wales and ITV Wales before we returned upstairs and waited. Within a few minutes M&S paper bags containing packed lunches for the visiting national journalists were handed to them as they too stood around waiting.

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More than an hour in finally we were joined by the man of the moment. He took questions on small businesses, the cost of living crisis, and the steelworkers at Port Talbot. As David TC Davies explained the intricacies of the transition board for Tata I watched the Prime Minister. He sat, crouched over, fiddling with his fingernails. The nervous energy was almost palpable. He jumped back into life when he heard David TC Davies talk about Labour wasting money on more Senedd members. "Yeah, exactly," he said almost breathlessly.

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We asked him, quite simply: "Why should people bother to vote for your party?" He replied: "Because we're living in the most uncertain and challenging times our country has seen in decades and that's clear to everyone around the world. And the impact that's having here at home, on our bills, on our streets, that's why this election is important. This election is about ensuring we have a secure future for everyone, their families, and our country and that's what I'll deliver. I'm able to deliver that because I'm able to do bold things."

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and MP for Vale of Glamorgan Alun Cairns (left) watching beer production at the Vale of Glamorgan Brewery, in Barry -Credit:PA
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and MP for Vale of Glamorgan Alun Cairns (left) watching beer production at the Vale of Glamorgan Brewery, in Barry -Credit:PA

"But what about Wales?" I interjected. Given that he had made the effort to come here I felt he should at least mention it.

"I'm working to a clear plan and that's how you deliver a secure future for everyone in Wales by being willing to do bold things, by having a clear plan, and security right now is important in an insecure world – whether that's financial security for families, energy security, and not [being] held hostage by dictators like Putin. The announcement at Wylfa is an example of that.

"Whether it's our border security and ensuring states can't weaponise migration and we can control who's coming to our country or indeed whether it's our national security in a more dangerous world where we're increasing defence spending. That's why people should come out to vote – because this is an uncertain time for our country. The future of our country is at stake. I want to deliver a secure future for everyone in Wales and I will do that because we're willing to do bold things and we've got a clear plan we're working towards".

And that was it – the 90 seconds of our exchange memorable for neither of us. He looked up to his press officer with half-pleading eyes. "Sorry, that's it – we need to rush," we were told. And with that he went downstairs, posed for a picture with the brewery staff, accepted some gifts, posed for a selfie with Team Cairns, and was shepherded back into his Range Rover.

"To Scotland," he said. "Union, union, union," shouted Alun Cairns. And with that he was whisked away.

He came to Wales for 90 minutes. We got our 90 seconds. I'm sure someone somewhere considers that a good use of everyone's time.