Sorry, Mr Sunak, but this low-energy performance had too many apologies in it

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak seemed to spend much of his time dwelling on the past - Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

This should have been a chance for Rishi Sunak to get on the front foot after Sir Keir Starmer was roughed up by Beth Rigby, but instead he spent much of his time apologising.

He was sorry for his D-Day gaffe. He was sorry for the high tax burden. He was sorry for people’s experience in the NHS and he could “understand people’s frustrations” over record migration.

Mr Sunak seemed honest, he seemed genuine and he seemed chastened. But he didn’t seem optimistic or excited about the future, or in any way convinced that he is going to be Prime Minister on July 5.

Rather than selling a vision of a better future to come, he spent the whole evening talking about the past, and explaining why things hadn’t gone as well as hoped over the past 14 years.

Even his own time in No 10 got a downbeat review from him. “It hasn’t been an easy 18 months in general,” he said.

Mr Sunak’s delivery was muted even when he talked about “bold plans” in his manifesto, as if he had spent so much time apologising that he was unable to change up to a positive tone of voice.

Light on revelations

Unlike Sir Keir, none of his answers in the early exchanges were revelatory.

Rigby asked whether his decision to leave D-Day early might be terminal, and he replied: “It was a mistake and that’s why I apologised unreservedly for that – I was incredibly sad to have caused hurt and upset, I hope people can find it in their hearts to forgive me.”

It was uncomfortable for him to have to revisit the D-Day error, but it was familiar stuff, as were Rigby’s questions about his five pledges on stopping the boats, bringing down NHS waiting lists and improving the economy.

There were no mis-steps, it was just that the whole tone of his appearance was rather glum.

He had not made as much progress on NHS waiting lists as he would have liked. Net migration was “too high”. He wanted young people to be able to buy a house, while accepting they currently could not.

Towards the very end of the audience questions, Mr Sunak was apologising for partygate.

Having told the audience he eats far too many Haribos, there should have been a sugar rush from Mr Sunak, but with 22 days until polling day he seemed lacking in energy.

Mr Sunak will need to learn how to sell the benefits of his manifesto rather than apologising for the past before he makes his next appearance on live television.