April 23, 2024 - 11:50am

Have you got your popcorn ready for election night? Westminster bubblers, the offspring of politicos and every columnist in Christendom might have plans to stay up all night watching the dullest general election in decades, but the perennial challenge for broadcasters of how to draw in normal viewers remains.

While the BBC faces the question of who can step into the shoes of Huw Edwards, Channel 4 has been busy announcing its lineup of election presenters. Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Cathy Newman will be joined in presenting roles by ex Newsnight star Emily Maitlis, with exclusive guest commentary from The Rest is Politics podcast hosts Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart. Spin doctors, failed prime ministerial hopefuls and, er, Clare Balding — the nation is on tenterhooks.

The announcement of the lineup has been met with some criticism. The I ran a column worried that the inclusion of Balding and Gogglebox stars in the election night analysis will risk turning a serious event into “souped-up reality television that helps no one”, while the Telegraph quoted Tory MP Mark Jenkinson laughing at the “return of prime-time comedy on Channel 4”.

At least Gogglebox has a broad social and political spectrum represented in its cast — from Jenny and Lee in the caravan park to Giles and Mary who are regulars at the Spectator summer party. By contrast, the only noticeable difference in political opinion in Channel 4’s lineup will be various shades of middle-class musing.

2016 might feel like a different country to some, but for many voters the issues raised by Brexit — democracy, border control, laws and freedom — remain important at the ballot box this year. To this end, it’s striking that every single new face at Channel 4 has been openly disparaging about the Brexit vote. Free from her BBC chains, Maitlis used her MacTaggart lecture in 2022 to reveal her anti-Brexit views, criticising her former employer for creating a “conspiracy against the British people”. Balding called for a second referendum on Jeremy Vine’s show, describing the vote to “cut ties” with Brussels as “dangerous”.

Campbell’s preference for Remain is well-documented, and Stewart was expelled from his party for collaborating with the opposition against the Government’s Brexit policy. Whether Leave or Remain, most people now agree that Brexit was perhaps the most important dividing line in recent British political history. This blindspot in Channel 4’s coverage is no accident.

All news outlets will eventually have to face the reality that this election — whenever it comes — is not going to make great television. Polls might show a devastating defeat for the Conservatives, but that won’t necessarily translate into a stunning victory for Labour. The political landscape is messy: Red Wall voters who shook off historic ties during the 2019 election have had their votes squandered by a useless government. Labour’s centrist-dad routine is being hampered by the conflict in the Middle East, the gender wars, and disgruntlement among middle-class greens disappointed by the party edging away from climate catastrophism.

From scandals over Grindr pictures to rows over alleged housing fiddles, parliamentary politics seems increasingly unattractive and childish. The challenge for news broadcasters is not who will cover the next general election, but why bother covering it at all.

Ella Whelan is a freelance journalist, commentator and author of What Women Want: Fun, Freedom and an End to Feminism.