'The general election is delivering bizarre, frantic, surreal TV gold'

UK rolling news has reignited with a renewed energy and a unique role in the upcoming election

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 22: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak makes a statement as raining outside 10 Downing Street announcing UK general election will take place on 4 July in London, United Kingdom on May 22, 2024. (Photo by Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak announced the general election in the pouring rain without the use of an umbrella. (Getty Images)

The upcoming general election has resulted in some rather surreal moments on television.

It started with prime minister Rishi Sunak being drowned out by D:Ream’s Things Can Only Get Better from a protestor’s sound speaker as he announced a General Election.

Then, the following Tuesday, Sky News interviewed Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey (standing on a paddleboard) with their political correspondent Matthew Thompson (sitting in a nearby kayak). The interview, which was conducted on Lake Windermere as part of a Lib Dem stunt to raise awareness for their sewage proposals, featured Thompson’s microphone at constant risk of nearly falling into the water, as he had to somehow manoeuvre the kayak, the microphone and interview Davey at the same time.

Sky News then aired footage of Davey clambering out of the water in his wetsuit, leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. And if you think that wasn’t weird enough, two days later, viewers saw live footage of Davey flying down a Slip-n-Slide in Somerset, at one point even bringing the interviewer with him.

"I think you need three people on one and then you have some speed," said a Sky News deadpan political commentator back in the news studio.

Watch: Ed Davey makes a big splash

These moments took place on news channels within a space of a week, and it has given an unexpected, frenetic energy to them. These places have now become a destination for announcements, bizarre campaign moments and gaffes. On the BBC News channel the other day Sunak managed to do a campaign talk with his back turned away from the cameras.

Read more: General election

On a different day, a member of the public in the background of one of his campaign events rolled her eyes whilst Sunak was speaking, so viewers on the same channel saw an aide (who looked a bit like Ross Kemp) trying to block her from being seen. And on Sky News Angela Rayner, in an interview with Beth Rigby, touted her own campaign battle bus. She then followed it up with: “It’s got a fridge.”

Watch: Rishi Sunak speech prompts background reaction

We’ve seen Beth Rigby yelling “CAN YOU WIN IT?” to an MP off-camera whilst presenting at the same time. And on Newsnight, viewers saw Steve Baker MP going full Partridge by reeling off “skydiving, motorcycling, fast catamaran sailing” when quizzed by host Victoria Derbyshire about what he would be doing if he wasn’t an MP.

And Sam Coates on Sky News received a call from Grant Shapps from the Conservatives on Sky News live on air, so he asked him about recent polling that has him losing his seat. Grant Shapps then hung up.

And with so many political reporters travelling across the country to report the latest on the campaign trail, there’s a never-ending array of news channels' interviews in buses with the correspondents reporting live from the passenger seat. One person described to me as if you are watching a never-ending weird episode of Race Across the World.

(Right to left) Shadow secretary of state for energy security and net zero Ed Miliband, Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar at the Port of Greenock while on the General Election campaign trail. Picture date: Friday May 31, 2024. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer pictured out on the campaign trail with Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and Ed Miliband. (PA Images via Getty Images)

News channels have long been considered to be a thing of the past. Viewership has gone down in recent years as viewers turn to the internet for breaking news. Right wing opinionated channels have been through the wringer: GB News has been shedding staff whilst Talk TV has thrown in the towel and moved online entirely. The BBC News channel hasn’t been immune either, merging with its global news counterpart, which on a typical day now results in largely global, rather than national, news for most of the day.

WINDERMERE, ENGLAND - MAY 28: Liberal Democrats Leader Ed Davey falls into the water while paddle boarding on Lake Windermere during a campaign visit, with Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, on May 28, 2024 in Windermere, England. The UK general election will be held July 4th. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Liberal Democrats Leader Ed Davey falls into the water while paddle boarding on Lake Windermere. (Getty Images)

And yet, here they are, with a renewed energy and with a unique role. News channel services have even expanded their offering, with Election 2024 Live on BBC iPlayer providing non-stop election coverage for the entire day without any interruptions (if you’re insane).

And at a time when social media feels like it is fragmenting, with Threads now competing with Twitter/X, and many of us reading our own selection of news rather than the same few sites, news channels remain one of the few destinations that in the weeks ahead many of us may engage with at any one time. It makes you wonder whether they have got my life in them yet.

And, thanks to the weird way that social media works, news moments still have the potential to reach millions of people thanks to the way that moments are cut up, shared and distributed on social media. Although, enough of Ed Davey clambering out of Lake Windermere in a wetsuit please. I’ve seen enough of that to last a lifetime.

The general election will take place on 4 July.