It might seem that the timing of the next General Election is one of the few things that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak still has control over.

As grassroots support collapses even more dramatically than his advisers will have been warning him, the timing of a call to the country will be one of the most crucial decisions he will make, his one chance to find even a fingerhold on the cliff face as votes tumble past him.

So when he was in the region today and was given the chance to secure a few crosses in boxes by showing empathy for hundreds of hard-working and loyal Hitachi staff and offering a future for thousands of young people, why did he chose to stick a spanner in the works rather than oil the wheels?

Having been briefed on the likelihood of being asked about it, his team seem to have decided that the best way to proceed was to hope no one really understood how the procurement process worked and talk of "...a strong order book more generally for rail manufacturing..." and "...close dialogue with Hitachi..."

Some of that order book isn't even available to bid for yet, and as the PM's team will know the route to actual work being done at Newton Aycliffe presuming a new contract is won will be around three years. It simply doesn't add up as reassuring words from a PM who needs people to agree to be led by him.

Instead the terrifying word 'mothballing' is being used, certainly in Derby where Alstom UK managing director Nick Crossfield blamed the Government for ‘continued delay in providing certainty and clarity’.

In this region more than anywhere else, we know all too well the crisis in confidence that word brings and how very close to the precipice it means we are. But at least it isn’t closure - at least it is hope.

So his strategy here seems all the more baffling  - or could it be one of the biggest gambles of Rishi Sunak’s 557 days in the top job?

Such key announcements aren't enough on their own to win elections, but as part of a bigger picture alongside Budgets and reassurances of long-term reliability they are crucial - so the Prime Minister's plan may even be so bold as to appear to be tied across the tracks with Hitachi hurtling towards him like a runaway train - only to leap clear, a few weeks after the election is called and a  few weeks before it happens, with an offer in his hands.

Otherwise, the decision not to do anything material to help the plant makes no sense at all and when contrasted with his comments only a year ago that the site was 'a fantastic example of world class manufacturing’ in the North East it is hardly a crowdpleaser.

It has created uncertainty and confusion not only among hundreds of North East families, but also voters on a much wider scale.

End it now, declare unequivocally a plan to extend its lifespan - or say clearly that, while it obviously matters, it doesn't matter enough.