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Rishi Sunak's D-Day departure is just the latest in a long line of gaffes in UK election campaigns


LONDON (AP) — The decision by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to leave D-Day commemorations in northern France early has caused a political storm that threatens to derail his Conservative Party's general election campaign.

Though Sunak apologized for not attending Thursday's final commemoration on Omaha Beach in Normandy, his critics said the decision showed disrespect to the veterans and diminished the U.K.'s international standing. Other world leaders including President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy were all present.

Keir Starmer, the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, remained to the end and said it was up to Sunak "to answer for his choice” to skip the D-Day event.

With opinion polls giving Labour a commanding lead ahead of the election on July 4, Sunak's gaffe has raised concerns that the Conservatives' support may come under further pressure over coming days.

Campaign gaffes are regular features of British elections. Some have more impact than others.

Here are a few that have lit up campaigns in recent decades:


Following a difficult few years in government that saw oil prices quadruple following the Yom Kippur war between Israel and Arab nations and the miners' strike causing widespread economic pain, then Conservative Prime Minister Ted Heath called a general election a year earlier than necessary for February 1974.

On explaining his decision to hold the election in the midst of a winter when power was being rationed, Heath said that he sought a mandate from the British people to rein in the power of trade unions. His question to the public was “Who governs Britain?” Ultimately, the British people decided it wasn’t Heath, and Labour’s Harold Wilson returned as prime minister.


Following the Falklands War in 1982 in which British forces sailed thousands of miles to the South Atlantic to expel invading Argentine troops, Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was riding high and was widely expected to win the general election she called for June 1983.

Her victory in the election became more or less assured after Labour, which had been riven with divisions over the previous few years, published an election manifesto that one moderate member of the party described as “ the longest suicide note in history.” The manifesto advocated an array of radical left-wing policies to be funded by higher taxes. It also called for unilateral nuclear disarmament and withdrawal from what was then the European Economic Community — a policy that the Conservatives would embrace decades later.

Thatcher won a landslide and remained in power until 1990 when she was ousted by lawmakers in her own party.


After 1983's big defeat, the Labour Party sought, under the leadership of Neil Kinnock, to move back to the center ground, where historically elections are won.

By the time the election was called for April 1992 by John Major, who replaced Thatcher, Labour was contending again. With a week or so to go before the elections, opinion polls were moving in favor of Labour, if not quite winning then becoming the biggest party.

A rally was held in Sheffield, a city in the north of England, and optimism was high. It was unlike anything seen before in the U.K. — more like an event seen in U.S. presidential elections.

Kinnock was clearly caught up with the buoyant mood and started shouting a phrase that sounded like “We're all right!” or “Well all right” several times.

Whatever he actually said, his perceived overconfidence was widely perceived to be one of the reasons why Labour fell way short and the Conservatives won a fourth straight election.


With hindsight, this was one of the most boring postwar elections, with Tony Blair's Labour Party widely expected to be re-elected by a big margin, akin to the one it achieved four years earlier.

The election took place a month later than Blair had planned in June 2001 as a result of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Nothing else surprising happened, until Blair's deputy John Prescott punched a man with a mullet hairdo after he had thrown an egg at him on the campaign trail.

The incident threatened to derail Labour's campaign, but Blair managed to defuse its impact at the following morning's press conference. “John is John,” he said, to widespread laughter among the journalists present.


Blair's successor Gordon Brown didn't have his predecessor's natural communications skills and that was particularly evident in the election campaign of 2010. Brown's ratings — and Labour's — had collapsed in the wake of the global financial crisis and the party, in power since 1997, faced losing to the Conservatives.

With barely a week to go to the May election, 65-year-old Gillian Duffy quizzed Brown while he was canvassing over the state of the economy and the party's immigration policies.

Following her interrogation and still wired up to Sky News when he got into his car, Brown told his advisers that the meeting was a “disaster” and that she was “just a bigoted woman.”

The gaffe dominated the rest of the campaign and there was no way back for Labour, though the Conservatives failed to win an outright majority and David Cameron had to enter into a coalition arrangement with the smaller Liberal Democrats.


Theresa May, who succeeded Cameron after he resigned following Britain's vote to leave the European Union in a referendum in June 2016, sought to capitalize on the Conservative Party's big opinion poll lead and called an early general election for June 2017.

Her hope was that a big majority would help her face down critics — both within her ranks and the opposition — in the upcoming Brexit discussions with the EU.

However, her proposal to change the way retirees pay for long-term care was criticized across the political spectrum and was quickly dubbed the “dementia tax.” May was forced to make an embarrassing partial reversal.

Rather than increase the modest majority that Cameron had secured in the 2015 general election, she lost it. Her premiership never recovered and she was replaced by Boris Johnson two years later.