LETTS: Sunak regarded undented by obliteration everybody says he is going through

Rishi Sunak published his election manifesto at Silverstone race track, Northamptonshire.

Politics at a Formula 1 venue. The Just Stop Oil brigade will be doing the nose trick with their oat milk.

Sadly we were not allowed anywhere near Silverstone’s pit lanes because Hollywood was shooting a Brad Pitt film. The location nonetheless evoked plenty of analogies: chicanes, prangs, poll/pole positions, etc.

Could Mr Sunak rub the oil from his goggles and jump-start his sputtering campaign? Or would he need the crank? Tush, that’s no way to talk of Nigel Farage.

‘More than a race’, said a corporate hoarding outside the cavernous room where a hundred or so Conservative activists assembled for the event. Halfway through Mr Sunak’s speech a couple of cars went roaring past beneath us, burning rubber. For a moment it was quite like the old days with Chris Huhne.

Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty ahead of the Conservative Party's Manifesto Launch at Silverstone race track in Northamptonshire on Tuesday

Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty ahead of the Conservative Party’s Manifesto Launch at Silverstone race track in Northamptonshire on Tuesday

Aides distributed copies of the 80-page manifesto. We were simultaneously given a second publication, a ‘costings document’. It took one back to maths O-levels and being handed a logarithmic tables booklet with the exam paper. I never did learn the point of log tables.

The Cabinet arrived, Mrs Sunak in their midst, shrink-wrapped in a yellow dress. Like the Queen Mother, she never seems to stop smiling. It must be exhausting.

Home Secretary James Cleverly hovered nearby. Has he started dyeing his beard? There was no sign of film star Brad nor indeed of Penny Mordaunt.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan did an energetic warm-up speech, which may or may not have been a leadership pitch. Her skirt was almost as short as Rishi’s trousers.

Ben Houchen, Tory mayor of the Tees Valley, also did a turn. He’s a tall, fleshy lad, bluntly effective. Sir Keir Starmer, with his lack of policy detail, was ‘taking the British public for chumps’ and a Labour government would bring ‘absolute Armageddon’.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the Conservative Party's Manifesto Launch

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the Conservative Party’s Manifesto Launch

When Houchen says ‘chump’ he makes the noise of a tent mallet hitting a water melon. After a video that had Formula 1 revving scenes, Mr Sunak skipped on to the stage. He looked perky, entirely undented by the obliteration everyone has decided he is facing. The activists leapt to their feet, clapping, and there were a few wolf whistles.

Little Rishi proceeded to make one of his better speeches, for once proclaiming – rather than shrivelling from – his party’s achievements on education, employment, house-building and recovery from Covid.

You don’t often hear him do identity politics but he allowed himself a small growl of defiance when he pointed out the ethnic mix of senior Tories, ‘a record I am mighty proud of’. Was that a swipe at some of the faintly racist stuff recently about how he ‘doesn’t understand’ Britain? ‘We Brits,’ he said at one point.

He hailed various colleagues –Penny, Kemi, David (Cameron), Iain (Duncan Smith), Boris, Ben (Wallace), Theresa, Priti and more. There was, however, no mention of Liz or Suella. Forgetful of him. Tax, tax, tax kept being mentioned.

Mr Sunak speaking at the launch of the Conservative Party's General Election manifesto on Tuesday

Mr Sunak speaking at the launch of the Conservative Party’s General Election manifesto on Tuesday

During questions from the Press almost every answer was wrenched back to the matter of Tory tax-cut promises and Labour’s undefined vision which was, he said, for French-style trade union laws, ballooning inflation, a mad Net Zero and higher taxes.

Rachel Reeves, Labour’s would-be chancellor, later popped up on TV screens honking out a wonderfully lugubrious speech from what looked like the inside of a pine-panelled box. Bernard Bresslaw in a sauna.

The moment it was over, TV reporters ran like Le Mans drivers to grab video interviews with ministers. I clambered after them but amid all the shouting – it was like Venice fish market – I could barely hear a thing.

Michael Gove, soon to retire, was in the thick of it, sniffing in the high-octane attention, lips a-quiver, eyes gleaming naughtily. ‘We’re the party,’ averred the man who needed seven attempts to pass his driving test, ‘that is accelerating ahead now.’

That may or may not be true, but they have had worse days.