Raging Rishi – or maybe his avatar – gave us an object lesson in how not to win friends | John Crace

They seek him here, they seek him there. That damned elusive Sunakel. We need to talk about Rishi. Has anyone you know seen him recently? Is he checking out schools in Santa Monica? Has he been abducted by aliens? Is he at home studying the spread betting odds on a Labour landslide along with the rest of his campaign team? Face it that’s about the only thing any of them are likely to win in this election. When Rish! says “Can you afford to gamble on Keir Starmer?” he means you to take him at face value.

Sunak has gone missing in action. Some claim to have made fleeting sightings of him over the last week but none of these has been confirmed. Not so long ago, you could guarantee to see the prime minister every day during an election campaign at a press conference. Not to mention regular trips to different parts of the country where they would kiss babies and be nice to dogs. OK, so they would tend to make the same dreary stump speech wherever they went but it was easy to tune out. What mattered was they were at least visible.

More recently, prime ministers have become a lot more selective with their engagements. The daily press conference binned. Replaced by operational notes sent out to lobby journalists the night before, inviting them to turn up to some stage-managed events attended by hand-picked Tory cheerleaders who would whoop and cheer at every banality. Theresa May and Boris Johnson were particularly keen on these and would do at least two or three a week. They could pretend they were meeting real people even when they weren’t.

But Rish! hasn’t even done one of these in more than a week. Not since his manifesto launch has he done an event at which more than one hack has been invited. It’s as though he has gone undercover. A unique style of campaigning whereby the prime minister seeks to make himself invisible. You could argue this was a question of shame. Sunak unable to face the country after 14 years of Tory government that academics have defined as the worst ever. Only that doesn’t quite stack up as Rish! doesn’t do shame. It’s us who owe him; not the other way round.

The truth is stranger than you think. What’s happened is that Sunak has been replaced by an avatar with faulty AI. You thought the Maybot was bad? Then hold my beer. Because Rish! is even worse. Let’s examine the evidence. First there’s the sheep. We caught a glimpse of someone resembling Sunak on a farm in Devon. Only the sheep sussed him out. They stayed away from him even though he was offering them food. They knew he wasn’t real.

Now the clincher. Only bad AI could be as consistently woeful as Rish!. By the law of averages, a real human would have the occasional day when he was moderately less useless. Do something almost normal. Not Avatar Rish!. He hasn’t put a foot right throughout the campaign. From the rain-soaked speech, to D-day, to the pisspoor manifesto to the gambling, he hasn’t put a single foot right. It’s like the Tories have bet the house on losing the election and didn’t want to leave anything to chance. Nearly there, guys. Nearly there.

Just two weeks to go. Along with some more pointless debates. Starting with BBC Question Time on Thursday. After all, what better way to cheer yourself up after England fumbled to a scratchy draw than two hours of the party leaders answering the same questions they’ve been asked hundreds of times before?

First up were Ed Davey and John Swinney. Presumably because if they’d gone last then we unhappy few who were watching would have switched over to Spain v Italy for the second half. The Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National party were very much the evening’s supporting cast. Not that the audience gave either an easy ride. Davey struggled on tuition fees and the Post Office Horizon scandal, Swinney prevaricated on what constituted a mandate for a referendum. But he at least got some applause for being genuine.

Keir Starmer got off to a nervy start as he was asked to explain why he had said Jeremy Corbyn would make a great prime minister at the 2019 election. Hardly surprising, as it’s not generally a good idea to admit that you were lying through your teeth while playing the election game. But thereafter he looked more assured, despite frequent interruptions from the BBC’s Fiona Bruce who decided her own questions were more interesting, and he got out more or less alive.

But then the moment the audience had clearly come for. To give the Tories a kicking. Out walked Rish! – or possibly his avatar – with a forced smile. The smile of a man who wanted to punch someone. This wasn’t just Tetchy Rish!, it was Angry Rish!. He had no time for the little people bothering him with their stupid questions. Why couldn’t they accept he was Mr Integrity, Accountability and Professionalism? Hell, no one ran a better gambling ring inside No 10 than him.

The Avatar was now completely out of control. Furious that the only applause was for the audience questions. Furious that there was not more gratitude for him. Furious that no matter how patronising and condescending he became, no one warmed to him or believed a word he said. At one point he was even laughed at. The billionaire Avatar was now just a standing joke. Stop the Boats. Stop the Bets.

It was an object lesson in how not to win friends and influence. The only logic to the performance was that the Avatar is a secret Labour supporter. His gift to the country the destruction of the Tory party. If only more people had been watching.

The Guardian