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The silliest and most scandalous moments of the election campaign

Welcome to Wednesday’s Early Edition from i.

It began with disastrous hilarity. Rishi Sunak, already struggling in the polls, decided to battle the driving rain – and being drowned out by a prankster playing a Labour anthem – to make his election announcement. ‘Things can only get wetter’ may well have set the tone for the last six weeks as the Tories have stumbled through seemingly endless blunders, scandals and embarrassments. Only several days after his Downing St speech, the PM was asked if he was “captaining a sinking ship” during a visit to the place where the Titanic was built. Now, six weeks later and with just 24 hours until the polls open, all political parties will be making their final, desperate pleas to voters. According to the polls, Labour are poised for a landslide win, while the Tories are braced for a defeat so catastrophic the PM could lose his seat and they may struggle to even form the opposition. Much will be made of the result in the coming days, weeks and perhaps even years. But before things get really serious, we’ll look at some of the lighter moments on the campaign trail. That’s after the headlines.

 Today’s news, and why it matters

Labour is being warned that it is “out of its depth” on asylum and that its plan to address what it sees as a “Rwanda mess” won’t be enough to prevent the crisis from escalating. The cost of housing asylum seekers in hotels could rocket from £5m to £7m a day by the end of this year unless a new government radically changes the asylum system to slow rocketing backlogs, figures show.

Boris Johnson has made his first appearance of the Conservative election campaign at a rally in central London. The former Prime Minister was greeted by cheers, claps, whistles and chants of “Boris, Boris, Boris”, before he warned of the “disaster” of a Labour victory.

Vast swathes of the British countryside are being sprayed in pesticides containing “forever chemicals” that pollute our air, soil and waterways, and pose a threat to public health. An analysis shared with i found that pesticides containing potentially dangerous chemicals were sprayed on an area roughly the size of Iceland.

Angling groups, swimming clubs and landowners may be able to sue water firms for dumping raw sewage following a landmark Supreme Court ruling. Lawyers involved in the case said water companies may now experience an wave of legal challenges as groups incensed by the sewage scandal “take action”.

Child serial killer Lucy Letby has been found guilty of attempting to murder a premature baby by removing her breathing tube following a retrial. The family of Baby K have described their “heartbreak” in a statement, adding: “We may never truly know why this happened.”

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The strangest and silliest moments of the last six weeks:

The most embarrassing campaign moments: The Tories got off to a flying start with a campaign video which showed a brief clip of the Union Flag being flown upside down, which in military terms is often interpreted as a coded distress signal. But that was just the beginning. Days later the PM faced embarrassment when it transpired a man with a question at a warehouse event was in fact a Tory councillor. He had asked whether the Rwanda plan would “stop the boats”. However another boat ended up getting the better of Sunak, when Lib Dem leader Daisy Cooper and a bunch of supporters managed to photobomb the PM by sailing past him during a campaign event in Henley. “This is just another small boat Rishi Sunak can’t deal with,” quipped one Lib Dem. Meanwhile Sunak and David Cameron had an unewesual encounter with a flock of agitated sheep, who ran away the minute the pair approached. As one viewer put it, it was clearly a “lambslide”. But awkward moments were not reserved for the Tories alone. Labour’s Dawn Butler made what was arguable the most cringeworthy appearance of the entire campaign when she decided to release a video featuring her rapping along to the tune of “21 Seconds” by So Solid Crew. Keir Starmer’s performance during the debates also generated amusement, and mockery. A question about his description as “political robot” sparked laughter when the Labour leader appeared to momentarily freeze in response. The party’s ‘change’ campaign also inspired a series of hilarious takes. But it was the constant reminders to voters that Starmer’s father was a toolmaker which prompted the most ridicule. Of course neither the Tories or Labour, or any one else, could compete with the election trail antics of Ed Davey…  

Everything Ed Davey: As the Times’ Hugo Rifkind asked – ‘maybe Ed Davey is always doing this stuff and it takes an election for anyone to notice?’ The Lib Dem leader’s team promised plenty of “fun photoshoots” – and they delivered. From his slapstick plummet off a paddleboard in Lake Windermere, to a series of stunts in rubber rings, a shameless Zumba class, drumming, dancing, to a bungee jump that some hope could become the next graphic of the BBC’s swingometer – nothing appeared to be off limits. But there was, quite clearly, a plan. “You have to get noticed, and making an impact on social media, which then ricochets into mainstream news, is a very strong way of doing it,” one campaigner told i. An aide said: “Ed has never said no to anything, I can assure you. We once showed him a cardboard blue cannon that was going to fire yellow confetti. His eyes lit up and he said, ‘Just get on with it.’” You can read that whole article here. But did the joke go too far for some? The Sun went called him the “joke leader of a joke party”.  Then again, tomorrow’s results may show us how much all of it – especially the more serious campaigns – have cut through.

The best comments from voters: There may not have been a Brenda from Bristol moment during this election campaign, but some vox pops still managed to do the rounds on social media. One Clacton resident spoke for her town when she said they were sick of being used as “political fodder” for people that “just want to get a seat in power”, largely referring to Nigel Farage who she called a “total snake”. But it was an anecdote relayed by Labour’s Karl Turner that took the top prize. “We met a guy who said he was going to vote Labour but wouldn’t now because he had just heard that we were taxing condoms,” he told the Guardian. He continued: “I said, ‘condoms?’ ‘Yeah,’ he said: ‘I just heard on that [pointing to the TV] that you are taxing condoms, and I’m not having it. “‘We’re taxing non-doms, not condoms,’ I said. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Like the prime minister’s wife? Ah.’ He calls out: ‘Margaret: they’re taxing non-doms, not condoms.’” 

The pranks: Tomorrow, Rishi Sunak will share a stage with a range of characters that will rival the bizarre and now infamous list of candidates who stood in a by-election in Chesterfield in 1984. The PM faces a candidate from the Monster Raving Loony Party, a YouTube prankster, and Count Binface in his Richmond and Northallerton constituency. The Daily Star has even gone so far to splash an endorsement of Binface as the ‘sanest politician in Britain’ today. However while a long list of unusual candidates may have become somewhat of a tradition in this country’s elections, another one is becoming something of an institution. Led by Donkeys have been plastering cheeky and pointed messages since 2018, and made this campaign no exception. The activists slowly unfurled a banner during a recent campaign speech by Nigel Farage showing a picture of Vladimir Putin with the words ‘I heart Nigel’. Some laughter can be heard initially in the video recording before Mr Farage is seen saying: “Who put that up there? Someone at the Columbine Centre needs to get the sack. Are we agreed?” The group wrote: “We just dropped in on Farage’s election rally with a beaming picture of Putin. Nigel was not pleased.” 

The scandals – and the surprise fallout: Labour managed to get themselves into a crisis early on over candidate selection and whether or not Diane Abbott could stand for the party (after also reeling from a row over why ex-Tory Natalie Elphicke was allowed to join). Nigel Farage’s Reform party was embroiled in its own mess. But it was the Conservatives who managed to spend most of the campaign dominating headlines with gaffes and scandals. First Rishi Sunak caused uproar by leaving D-Day commemorations early to get back in time for an ITV interview. As if that wasn’t enough, during the programme he revealed, to the sound of a very tiny violin, that he was deprived of Sky News as a child. That, though, was completely eclipsed by what was to come – allegations over suspicious bets which saw two candidates suspended from the party and two officials, including the party’s director of campaigning, step back from their duties. But they kept going – with a poorly timed ad on social media which said ‘if you bet on Labour you can never win’. There are even some suggestions that the movement in the betting market, triggered by an uptick in bets placed, meant Labour saw which way the wind was blowing on the election date and bought up all the best ad space ahead. “Because of the betting we were much more ready and we were in a position to buy the prime real estate that we assumed the Tories would have” a member of Starmer’s team told ITV’s Robert Peston. “The betting gave us an unexpected opportunity.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey taking part in a bungee jump (Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire)

 Around the world

A judge has delayed Donald Trump‘s sentencing in his hush-money case until September over the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday which granted him partial immunity from criminal prosecution. The sentencing, which was originally planned for 11 July, will now take place on 18 September at the earliest.

‘I’m 25 and voted for France’s far right – Macron has squandered our money’. The National Rally party has surged in popularity among young people, with supporters denying accusations of racism, reports Peter Yeung.

“Online sleuths” and “armchair experts” spreading conspiracy theories online are making it increasingly difficult for police to carry out proper investigation work, experts have warned after the search for Jay Slater was called off over the weekend.

Firefighters are battling wildfires on Greece’s popular holiday islands of Kos and Chios, where five people have been injured and hundreds of tourists and locals were forced to evacuate from their homes and hotels on Monday night.

Inside Spain’s most British town where expats say the UK is a mess. Since a change in UK electoral law this year, a record number of expats can vote in Thursday’s general election – but many won’t bother, reports Graham Keeley. 

 Thoughts for the day

In Trump’s kingdom, America no longer knows what is right and wrong. The Supreme Court now looks like part of the executive that can never be voted out, says Emily Maitlis.

I’m an election pollster – this is why polls vary so wildly. Good pollsters always want to be more accurate, but don’t all agree on how to do it, writes Joe Twyman.

Wordsworth would despair at Tory neglect of the River Wye. The unspoiled countryside of Herefordshire was celebrated by poets and writers down the centuries – but nature here is under threat, writes Patrick Cockburn.

Henry Cockburn’s painting of the River Wye in Hereford, 2024

 Culture Break

The Man with 1,000 Kids review: A shocking, disturbing documentary. Netflix’s shocking film tells the story of a man who duped hundreds of women into using him as a sperm donor.

Suzanne, who was duped along with her partner Natalie (Photo: Netflix)

 The Big Read

Millions of women with chronic health conditions ignored in election pledges. Chronic UTI, endometriosis and EDS patient groups have criticised a lack of effort by the major political parties to engage sufferers, reports Connie Dimsdale.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has called election manifestos “disappointing”, with topics like gynaecological waiting lists markedly absent

 Sport

How England should line up in Euros quarter-final, according to i’s experts. Konsa or Dunk for Guehi? Time for Gordon? And should Bellingham play deeper? Here’s our verdict on the changes Gareth Southgate should make.

i’s writers back Anthony Gordon to make his first start of the tournament (Photo: Getty)

 Something to brighten your day

Don’t stress about eating 30 plants a week – follow these simple tips instead. The 30 plants concept has entered the mainstream, but now a leading scientist is questioning how seriously we should take the advice, reports Sophie Morris.

‘The 30 plants doesn’t specify portion-size, which means anything from a pinch of paprika to a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds counts as one plant,’ writes Sophie Morris (Photo: Ben Edmonds)

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