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Sometimes in election campaigns, events just seem to ‘stick’.

From Labour leader Neil Kinnock tumbling into the sea to Theresa May’s dad dancing and Ed Milliband’s bacon sandwich, the UK’s politicians have an unhappy knack for turning some of the most relatable aspects of British life into defining moments of their own doomed political campaigns.

This time it was Rishi Sunak’s turn as his big moment was washed out by rain and drowned out by the sound of D:Ream’s Things Can Only Get Better

So how does it happen?

A very British announcement

During The Great British Summer™, you can count on many things: soggy chips, unexpected showers, and pithy comments on social media platforms. 

‘Things can only get wetter,’ has been a popular headline to sum up the moment a British Prime Minister called a general election.‘“Labour doesn’t have a plan” says man who didn’t even check the weather forecast,’ was another much-repeated comment on social platforms. The weather, as always, is the bit we like to talk about.

“I’m not going to deny that it was a bit wet,” Sunak told the BBC the following morning, before pivoting to his message: after all, doesn’t this just show he’s not a ‘fair-weather politician’ but ready to deliver for Britain, come rain or shine?

"In an age of over-training our PR partners in media relations, over-reliance on jargon, and computer-generated ‘quick-fix’ solutions to all of our problems, authenticity is only becoming more important for leadership."

Never accept the premise of the question (unless it’s really really obvious and you simply can’t escape it). Pivot to positive. Stay on message and never, ever leave your island of comfort. You could almost feel Sunak regurgitating Media Training 101 on autopilot as he ‘admitted’ to being stood in the rain.

The problem, as it often invariably is when it comes to politics in general, is authenticity.

The UK’s trust issues

According to the much-vaunted Edelman Trust Barometer – the yearly temperature check on trust and credibility in our institutions – the UK is among the least trusting nations in the world. Of the 28 countries listed in the 2024 survey, Britain is last.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that governments (and the media) are the least trusted of our institutions. But anyone wondering why politicians aren’t given a fair shake will surely land on the a-word sooner or later.

Authenticity has been a buzzword in marketing for a long time. Perhaps because it sounds suitably insightful in a world where polished public figures rhyme off carefully crafted statements designed to avoid negative headlines. But it is an important factor when our public figures seem closer to us than ever, so easily accessible now through the medium of social media.

So why is it so difficult for a politician to authentically laugh off a bit of rain in London? 

In an age of over-training our PR partners in media relations, over-reliance on jargon, and computer-generated ‘quick-fix’ solutions to all of our problems, authenticity is only becoming more important for leadership. 

Sunak’s humour was forced, his metaphors too clearly brainstormed and his pivots too obvious – which is par for the course these days for a politician.

The British public may be one of the least trusting in the world, but they’re also pretty used to getting caught in a shower. Sometimes we laugh it off, sometimes we complain, but if there’s one thing we acknowledge as it’s happening, it’s the rain! If the situation isn’t working for you, it’s working against you, and that’s not something that can be remedied through political spin.

But, as a metaphor for his own electoral outlook, standing in the rain without an umbrella just works

“I believe very strongly in the traditions of our country,” said Sunak. “And when you’re making a statement of that magnitude as Prime Minister, I believe in just doing it in the traditional way, come rain and shine, in front of the steps of Downing Street.”

And it’s this mundane fact of British life that will likely be a defining visual for the whole 2024 campaign if not Sunak’s own premiership. How’s that for tradition?

Chris McMullan is a Content Manager & Strategist at Thinking Hat – read more from him here.