Politics

From milkshakes to Ed Davey on a paddleboard: The most bizarre moments of the 2024 general election

It's been quite the six weeks on the campaign trail. Here's the most bizarre moments from the race to become prime minister

Rishi Sunak, Ed Davey, Nigel Farage and Keir Starmer on the general election campaign trail

Rishi Sunak, Ed Davey, Nigel Farage and Keir Starmer packed a lot into the six-week general election campaign. Image: Imageplotter / PA Images / Mark Thomas / Joshua Bratt / Alamy

It’s only been six short weeks since a soggy Rishi Sunak kicked off the race to be prime minister with Keir Starmer, announcing a general election would be held on 4 July to the echoes of New Labour anthem Things Can Only Get Better.

Things actually only got weirder from there.

The campaign trail has been packed with gaffes, blunders and downright bizarre stunts as some of the country’s leading politicians do anything to secure a vote at a time when trust in them is through the floor.

Here’s a round-up of the 2024 general election campaign’s best bits.

Steve Bray’s day in the rain

Rishi Sunak hadn’t even made it to his podium before Steve Bray – the protester who has been shouting ‘Stop Brexit!’ for almost a decade at this point – had won the day.

Bray piped out the Imperial March – Darth Vader’s theme from Star Wars – before Sunak stepped out to end months of speculation on the general election date.

When Sunak appeared things only got worse. His impassioned speech was drowned out both by driving rain and D:Ream’s Things Can Only Get Better being fired out of Bray’s speakers.

It hardly felt like a confident start for Sunak’s bid to turn around a 20-point poll deficit.

Sunak’s D-Day gaffe and Sky TV

It definitely didn’t get better for the Conservative leader.

World leaders gathered in France to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day on 6 June and Sunak was among them but left early, leaving Lord David Cameron in his place.

The prime minister jetted back to the UK for an interview with ITV News. The broadcaster released footage of him arriving for the interview and apologising for being late.

But the other line that captured the imagination from his interview with Paul Brand was Sunak’s assessment of what he went without as a child. The billionaire everyman’s answer – “Sky TV” – did little to endear him with critics who deride him as out of touch.

Nigel Farage brings back milkshaking

Perennial populist Nigel Farage was far too busy at the start of the campaign to run for Reform UK.

He only had six weeks to get ready and campaign and that wasn’t enough time. His ol’ pal Trump needed him in America. He couldn’t possibly run.

Fast-forward less than a week and he was running in Clacton-on-Sea after all and taking on the mantle of Reform UK leader in a move that could only be described as the Tories’ worst nightmare.

Farage said he changed his mind after being stopped on the street by scores of people telling him he simply must run.

Presumably the woman who threw a milkshake at him in Clacton on 5 June was not among them. For those who can remember all the way back to 2019, chucking a milkshake at your local politician was all the rage.

Lobbing empty cups was a new one though – Farage had to duck to dodge that while atop his open-top bus a week later.

Obviously, it needs to be said that these actions should be condemned, especially when two serving MPs have been killed in the last decade. But it is somewhat odd that no other candidate has received the same treatment as Farage.

The Diane Abbott row  

Keir Starmer’s campaign has been one of caution: Labour’s lead in the polls has been so vast that there’s been a sense of ‘don’t mess this up’ about his bid for prime minister.

So when Diane Abbott – the first Black female MP who has represented Hackney North and Stoke Newington since 1987 – addressed crowds outside Hackney Town Hall on 29 May to clarify whether she would be standing for Labour or not, it was an awkward moment for Starmer.

Abbott had the Labour whip removed in April 2023 after controversial remarks on racism that kicked off an antisemitism row. There was speculation that she would have the whip restored in return for exiting parliament, but Starmer was forced to deny that she would be barred from standing, sparking fury among Abbott and her allies.

The Labour leader’s bid to show the party had changed had seen several Corbyn allies and left-wing candidates face a battle for re-selection. Abbott’s case bubbling to the fore was the first speed bump in Labour’s campaign.

Ed Davey

Quite frankly, Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey’s campaign has been so bizarre that he warrants his own section. And if the campaign had been longer than six weeks it could have been chronicled in a book.

Depending on where you sit, Davey’s campaign has either gotten dangerously close to making a politician look human and injected some joy into proceedings, or dragged politics through the mud with a series of odd stunts.

He started off speaking about the NHS and his fears about caring for his disabled son John, who even featured in a Lib Dem campaign video.

Then the stunts started.

There was that time he repeatedly fell off a paddleboard in Windermere and was interviewed by a Sky News presenter circling him in a kayak.

Or the time he was spotted with a giant blue jenga set and played with big blue dominoes.

Or when his sandcastle building skills were analysed live on the BBC.

Or he played We Will Rock You on an exercise ball at a care home.

Or took centre stage in a dance class.

Or the various rides and slides he has been on.

Not only did the Lib Dems pick up more seats from the Tories as a result, at least someone has enjoyed the general election campaign.

The betting scandal

For months, Sunak has been quizzed about the date for the general election and insisted it would be in the second half of the year. For many in the Westminster bubble, that meant the autumn.

So it was somewhat a surprise when he announced the 4 July vote in sudden fashion on 22 May.

But perhaps not to everyone.

The Gambling Commission is currently investigating a number of Tories for betting on the day of the election. Two of them, Craig Williams and Laura Saunders, were dropped by the Conservatives during the campaign.

Williams, who is the prime minister’s parliamentary private secretary, said he was co-operating with the Commission and he “should have thought how it looks” before placing the bet.

While the gambling watchdog inquiry continues, the scandal has done little to boost the Tories flagging popularity in the polls with Reform UK overtaking them in second place.

Hanging up on Grant Shapps

Sky News’ Sam Coates has been one of the journalists entrenched on the main parties’ battle buses but he had a bizarre moment back in the studio on 3 June.

Coates was unveiling Sky News and YouGov’s MRP polling which predicted a Labour landslide with 442 seats going to Starmer’s party.

That’s when he got a phone call from none other than Tory defence secretary Grant Shapps. Coates asked him: “Have you seen that you are about to lose your seat according to these Sky News/Yougov projections?”

Shapps hung up.

The cabinet minister would later coin the term “supermajority” in this election’s lexicon.

Brexiteer Steve Baker jetting off to Greece

The election date announcement caught plenty of people unawares, but arch Brexiteer Steve Baker didn’t let it deter him from cancelling his holiday plans.

Baker said he would do “his campaign work in Greece” as he looked to defend his Wycombe seat.

When he returned later in the campaign, he was asked by Victoria Derbyshire on Newsnight what he would do if he wasn’t an MP.

He replied: “Skydiving, motorcycling and fast catamaran sailing.”

To be fair, that sounds like a week in the life of Ed Davey.

Tories’ awkward question time

It took one day of campaigning before Rishi Sunak’s efforts to get out and about and meet the voters started to unravel.

He was accused by the Byline Times of taking questions from planted Conservative councillors at a biscuit distribution centre in Derbyshire. Later in the day, he was widely mocked for asking people in a Welsh brewery whether they were looking forward to “all the football” despite Wales not qualifying for the Euros in Germany.

But if he wasn’t capturing hearts and minds then distraction tactics didn’t work either.

Footage of a man, described somewhat cruelly as a “Ross Kemp lookalike” on social media, standing in front of a woman rolling her eyes at a Sunak speech also attracted ridicule in the early campaigning days.

Reform UK candidates under the spotlight

Reform UK has scaled up to contest 609 candidates in the general election but a number of candidates have come under the spotlight due to racist remarks.

Two candidates switched to the Tories over the behaviour of people in the party. Erewash candidate Liam Booth-Isherwood defected over the issue as did West Ham and Beckton candidate Georgie David, who said the “vast majority” of the party’s candidates are “racist, misogynistic and bigoted”. She said the accusations do not apply to senior leaders such as Farage and Richard Tice.

Farage said the “bad apples” have been pushed out of the party but a series of stories about Reform candidates have dogged the party’s general election campaign.

Reform UK has removed endorsement for three candidates over alleged comments, including calling people arriving on small boats as “scum” and urging black people to “get off [their] lazy arses”.

Ofcom also threw out a Reform UK complaint about a Channel 4 report that saw a canvasser use a racist term to describe Rishi Sunak in an undercover recording. Richard Parker said he was a “total fool” and that he had learned his lesson.

Reform UK had accused the broadcaster of a “set up” but the claim was rejected by the broadcasting watchdog.

Farage’s party may have picked up a few seats on polling day, but they are likely to face more scrutiny in the months ahead.

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