Star Wars fan Sunak hopes force will be with him as he kicks off election campaign next to Comic Con

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak launches the Conservative Party general election campaign at the Excel Centre which is also about to host Comic Con in east London - Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

If leading the Tories to victory will require a superhuman effort, then Rishi Sunak chose a most apt venue for his party’s election launch.

For while in one part of London’s Excel Centre the Prime Minister rallied his troops, in another workers were making the final preparations for this year’s Comic Con.

If Mr Sunak, a keen Star Wars fan, would rather have been at the annual gathering of comic book aficionados then he disguised his feelings well.

Minus his rain-soaked jacket, he bounded onto a small stage surrounded by 100 cheering Tory activists including many of his Cabinet big hitters.

With the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up, in time-honoured election campaign fashion, he launched into an impassioned defence of his and his party’s record.

What followed was a punchy speech which sought to paint the Conservatives as the adults in the room and Labour as a threat to Britain’s security and prosperity

Audience warmed up with him

There were some dutiful cheers as the Prime Minister celebrated Wednesday’s announcement that inflation had returned close to the two per cent target.

As he upped the ante with attacks on Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, so the audience warmed up with him, especially as he attacked the party’s plans on illegal migration.

Sir Keir would make the UK “a magnet for every illegal immigrant in Europe”, he warned, making the Rwanda plan a clear election dividing line.

Watching on from the centre of the front row and clapping at all the right moments was his wife, Akshata, who had chosen a suitably blue dress for the occasion.

She was flanked by a stellar cast of the Conservatives’ biggest hitters, including several MPs who just weeks ago were being tipped to replace her husband.

Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary, was standing alongside Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, who just hours before had faced swirling rumours he was about to be sacked.

Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, and Lord Cameron, the Foreign Secretary, were also among those to dutifully turn out.

All had hot-footed it across the capital from Westminster to east London following an emergency Cabinet meeting where they had been told of the snap election.

The event, held in a small and stiflingly hot room overlooking a derelict flour mill, had the feeling of one which had very much been organised at the last minute.

Key figure in the campaign

When it kicked off, around 15 minutes later than scheduled, it was James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, who stepped in as a warm-up act for Mr Sunak.

The role handed to the burly former military man suggested that he is highly trusted by Mr Sunak and will be a key figure in the election campaign.

He successfully whipped up the crowd of activists with a six-minute speech in which he warned that Sir Keir was “beholden to the extreme Left”.

Activists cheered and waved signs emblazoned with “Vote Tory” as he introduced his boss as “the person who is going to lead us through the next election and back to No 10”.

Mr Sunak then delivered his address – which at five minutes was shorter than the warm-up – with Lord Cameron whooping enthusiastically in the background.

He left the centre stage and hugged members of his Cabinet including Ms Badenoch and Mr Shapps though there was only a stiff handshake for Mr Hunt.

After a final encore appearance on stage to lap up the applause, the unusually low-key campaign launch came to an end after a little over 10 minutes.

And as the sweat-drenched party faithful filtered out of the room, many mopping furiously at their brows, there was a feeling that the real battle is yet to come.