Gravitas, surprises and John Bercow: TV election night coverage

Harriet Sherwood

For gravitas, it’s the BBC. For the unexpected, Sky. For laughs, tune into Channel 4. But for those hoping to gain fresh insight into the man who may well be prime minister the next day, ITV could be the channel to watch on election night.

Its line-up includes Jo Johnson, younger brother of Boris and a member of a family fractured over Brexit and the country’s future. Jo resigned from the cabinet and announced he was standing down as an MP in September, citing an “unresolvable tension” between his family loyalty and the national interest. At the time he tweeted “#overandout” – but editors at ITV will be hoping he has more to say.

All the major TV channels will be broadcasting results and commentary from 10pm on Thursday – the point at which the polling stations close in one of the strangest general elections in recent history, and exit polls are released.

For the BBC, this election will also mark a break with a 40-year BBC tradition. David Dimbleby, who has anchored every election night since 1979, bringing an air of calm authority to proceedings, will be absent from the studio. Earlier this year, he said: “I’ve done 10 and I think I’ve had my stint.”

In his place will be Huw Edwards, the lead presenter for BBC News. He will be at the helm of a team including political editor Laura Kuenssberg, Europe editor Katya Adler, economics editor Faisal Islam, Andrew Neil and the psephologist John Curtice.

The BBC’s team in key constituencies around the country includes Naga Munchetty, Andrew Marr, Martha Kearney, Nick Robinson, and Jeremy Vine will be manning the swingometer.

BBC director of news Fran Unsworth said: “This is one of the most important – and unpredictable – elections for years.” Edwards was “a trusted and authoritative guide throughout election night”, she added. The corporation will be hoping its coverage on the night will draw a line under a particularly bruising campaign which has seen it repeatedly accused of pro-Tory bias, a charge dismissed by Unsworth, as unfair and unfounded.

ITV has secured an impressive line-up of pundits for its election night coverage, anchored by Tom Bradby. As well as Johnson-the-younger, it will see the former chancellor George Osborne sparring once again with the former shadow chancellor Ed Balls, plus Ruth Davidson, the former leader of the Scottish Conservatives; former Labour home secretary Alan Johnson; Momentum founder and chair Jon Lansman; and Fiona Hill, who resigned as Theresa May’s chief of staff in the wake of the 2017 general election result.

Jo Johnson downplayed his election night appearance on ITV’s results programme. “It’s no big deal, it’s just a TV appearance,” he told the Observer. When he tweeted “#overandout” on quitting the cabinet, “I didn’t mean over and out of all public communication”.

ITV correspondents will be at every count in the UK, with psephologists Jane Green and Colin Rallings analysing exit polls and results of an election that is “gripping and unpredictable”, according to Bradby.

Viewers over on Sky News will be hoping for colourful and candid comments from former Commons Speaker John Bercow, who has been signed up for its election night coverage anchored by Dermot Murnaghan. “John will bring his own authority, and no little wit to a night of high drama,” said John Ryley, head of Sky News.

Bercow, who was Speaker for 10 years until stepping down at the end of October, has an encyclopaedic knowledge of MPs, their constituencies and parliamentary arithmetic. Although he also served as Conservative MP for Buckingham for 22 years, he is thought not to be a fan of Boris Johnson. Last week, he said the prime minister’s mantra of “Get Brexit Done” was “utter nonsense”.

In addition to his election night role, the former Speaker is to deliver Channel 4’s Alternative Christmas Message, broadcast on Christmas Day. He will record the four-minute message after the election results are known.

Sky is also live-streaming on social media platforms a programme aimed at a younger and more diverse audience on election night, anchored by its political correspondent Lewis Goodall and technology reporter Rowland Manthorpe.

Channel 4, which found itself at the centre of a storm last week after misreporting a remark by the prime minister on immigration, is, as usual, offering an alternative election night, hosted by Supermarket Sweep presenter Rylan Clark-Neal, comedian Katherine Ryan and C4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy. Additional wit and wisdom will be provided by sports personality Clare Balding, Labour’s soon-to-be former deputy leader Tom Watson, former Tory cabinet minister Amber Rudd, television judge Rob Rinder and political comedian Matt Forde.