The Battle For Campaign Agenda In Britain

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The Battle For Campaign Agenda In Britain Essay, Research Paper The Battle for the Campaign Agenda in Britain (1997) The 1997 election was a struggle, not just for votes, but also to control the campaign agenda. Significant, but contradictory, challenges faced the media, parties and the public. For journalists, the problem was how to engender any zip into the campaign. Ever since Black Wednesday, in September 1992, Labour had seemed assured of victory while Conservative support floundered in the doldrums. For five years, perhaps it just seemed like longer, pundits had been writing of the end of the Conservative era, bolstered by all the accumulated evidence from opinion polls, by-elections and local elections. By the start of the six-week official campaign, the horse-race

story was almost lifeless. Moreover, to the dismay of leader-writers, commentators and columnists, Blair’s strategic shift towards the centre-left had removed much of the drama of serious policy conflicts between the major parties. Few issues remained where one could discern clear blue water between Labour and the Conservatives – devolution and constitutional reform, perhaps the faint ghost of trade union rights and spending priorities – but on so much the contest was a classic case of an echo not a choice. Lastly, at the outset the campaign promised tight party control, in as gaffe-free an environment as could be humanly managed. At the start the Labour party seemed insecure and sweaty despite its enormous lead in the polls, and the professional andelson machine at

Millbank Tower left almost nothing to chance, as though the souffle of support might suddenly collapse. Based on their formidable track-record during the 1980s, the Conservatives had a reputation for running highly professional campaigns. Given the palpable sense of public boredom and impatience, a feeling of oh-do-lets-get-on-with-it, the challenge for journalists was to find something fresh and interesting to hold the attention of their readers and viewers. During the six week campaign there was, on average, about ten hours of regular BBC and ITN television news and current affairs programmes every weekday1, not including election specials, nor Sky News, CNN, Radio 4, Five Live, newspapers and magazines, the internet election web pages, and all the other plethora of media

outlets. Something had to fill the ravenous news hole. For the public, the primary urge seemed to be to get it all over with. But voters also needed to make sense of the choice before them, when policy differences between the parties had shaded from the red-and-blue days of Thatcher v. Foot to a middle of the road wishy-washy mauve. Many issues confronting voters were complex, technical and subtle, with no easy answers: what will happen to the economy if Britain enters, or stays out, of the ERM? How can the peace process move ahead in Northern Ireland, given the intractability of all sides? Can Britain afford an effective and comprehensive health service, given ever-increasing demands on the system and spending limits accepted by all parties? These, and related, issues facing

Britain have critical consequences for the lives of citizens, but they admit of no simple sound-bite panaceas. The needs of the news media and the public were at odds with those of the parties. Given their lead, the primary challenge for Labour was to manage their media environment against unexpected crises, in play-safe reactive mode. The watchword was control. Memories of the polling fiasco in 1992, and Neil Kinnock’s false expectation of victory in that campaign (”We’re allright!”), dominated strategy in 1997. The challenge for the Conservatives was to staunch grassroots morale, and even build momentum, by emphasising the positive economic performance of the government, by reassuring voters to trust Prime Minister John Major against the inexperienced and unknown Tony