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Wet Wet Wet Political Images

By Roz Morris, Managing Director, TV News London Ltd

‘I feel it in my fingers. I feel it in my toes….’ That’s probably not the hit song that UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was thinking of as he delivered his general election announcement in the pouring rain in Downing Street while opponents at the end of the street blasted out Tony Blair’s Labour victory anthem ‘Things can only get better’ by D:Ream.

In PR terms and in simple visual terms for the general public this was a really negative and downbeat start to his campaign, and it led to plenty of humourous and insulting comments on social media. From the film Four Weddings and a Funeral (The Wet Wet Wet song I’ve quoted and the famous question: ‘Is it raining? I hadn’t noticed’.) to Only Fools and Horses, Withnail and I, and Alan Partridge, social media did poke fun at the rain-soaked prime minister.

The TUC joined in with ‘Forced to work in the rain? Join a union.’

Traditional media had front page headlines such as, ‘Cringing in the rain – soggy Rishi kickstarts his farewell tour’ The Guardian, ‘Sunak admits election announcement ‘was a bit wet’ and he now has an umbrella’ The Independent, and the very tabloidese ‘Drown & out’ The Mirror.

Plus the BBC News Website continued the ‘wet’ theme with ‘No pneumonia yet, jokes Sunak after soggy speech’. His wet, damp, soggy, drenched, image was not positive for the Prime Minister.

Mr Sunak’s campaign optics didn’t get any better after his wet Day One.

Baroness Ruth Davidson, former Conservative leader in Scotland, was not impressed by Days Two and Three of the prime minister’s general election campaign which involved a visit to a brewery in Wales and to the Titanic museum in Northern Ireland.

“The deluge launch drowned out by D:Ream. A brewery visit with a teetotal PM, so no chance of a piss-up. Now a site visit to something famous for sinking. Is there a double agent in CCHQ, and were they a headline writer in a previous life? Our candidates deserve better,” she wrote.

Meanwhile, you may have noticed that Ed Davey, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats is making a virtue of being wet. One commentator called it ‘embarrassing dad style’ as he fell off a paddleboard into Lake Windermere with his Deputy Daisy Goodwin looking worried on TV talking about the possible state of the water in the lake, and whether it was safe for him to swallow it, following the recent well-publicised sewage leak.

Wet Wet Wet? Yes. Ed Davey definitely was, but this was only the latest in a series of visual stunts that have got him and his party noticed by a lot of people. Journalists noted that the paddleboard splash was a definite gimmick but in a social media visual age it got people’s attention for a smaller political party and so was far more effective than if he just talks about Liberal Democrat policies.

As Jack Kessler from the sadly soon-to-be-just weekly London Evening Standard put it:

‘If you remember anything about the Chesham and Amersham by-election of 2021, it will be the image of Davey destroying a model blue brick wall with a small hammer while a bunch of activists held up yellow placards. It was a gimmick, obviously, but a brilliant one. This also explains why Davey has this week fallen into Lake Windermere while paddleboarding, got wet (again) on a Slip’nSlide in Somerset, and cycled down a very steep hill in Wales where his team appeared disappointed he failed to fall off.’

As Jack Kessler points out, the Lib Dem leader is happy to look a little silly if it means his party gets enough attention to pick up two dozen seats in their traditional battlegrounds of the West Country and the South of England, where they can reasonably convince voters that they are the lever to pull for those most concerned with ejecting the local Tory MP.

Optics are not everything, but they are very powerful, and a wet picture can say much more than a thousand dry words. Image does matter. Ed Davey looks to be in control of his damp image. Rishi Sunak does not.

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