Analysis of Party Electoral Communications in the 1997 UK General Election

The subject matter in this topic draws very heavily on Public Relations and Communications theory and practice. The 1997 General Election was one that was fought very much on the "media battleground", and one of the campaigns that involves the fields of Public Relations and Mass Communication more than almost any other in British Political History. This, therefore, I feel is an excellent forum in which to discuss Politics and Communication Theory.

Initial thoughts – Communication Theory The kind of communication theory that is involved in political campaigning is very persuasive in nature, and even though it has a reputation historically for being one-way in nature, we have seen recently, and especially within the case study, elements of two way communication models becoming more prevalent in party electoral communications.

Looking at Grunig's models of Communication, historically, one could say that The Public Information Model has been most prevalent, with governments and political parties disseminating information in a very one-way nature, and while commitment to truth remains a large factor, use of practical "scare tactics" and almost wild assumption has been used in order to "scare" the electorate into voting for a particular political party or government.

With recent campaigns, we have seen a move toward a more Asymmetric Two-Way model, where while persuasion remains the primary goal, greater use of feedback, and source-receiver-source communication has been used in order to more effectively involve and persuade the electorate, (possibly in this case to try and combat voter apathy). This is particularly noticeable in the Labour Election Campaign of 1997.

The campaign, that will be studied further below, drew on several PR and Politics related disciplines of how to communicate with the electorate, using both new and tried and tested ideas, in a format that is now accepted as the basis for comparison in all of the election campaigns of European Social Democrat parties. The evidence of the usefulness of these theories seen by Labour's landslide victory is clear, and an attempt will be made to study what tactics and strategies were used in order to achieve the result that eventually occurred.

While main focus will be made on the successor's (Labour's) campaign tactics, an analysis of Conservative counter-tactics will also be made in order to give a more balanced view of how parties communicate with their publics in the political landscape of Britain today. Key concepts that relate to this case study include: Politics and Communication – a general exploration of how politics and communication are entwined Mass Media and Politics – how was the mass media used in this campaign?

Voting & the electoral system – how the ways people voted contributed to the result Party Ideologies – the thinking behind parties' strategies Politics and Communication – General Theory With regards to the topic, obviously communication is at the core of any campaign that was mounted. Therefore an explanation is required of how Politics and Communcation go hand in hand to achieve desired goals. Far from using propaganda, a tactic popular with many 20th Century Dictatorships, Democratic Politics must use elements of persuasion and communication.

While it is generally accepted that public opinion is something that no politician cannot afford to listen to, it is also accepted that public opinion can often be wrong, and hence the "communication battleground" of Democracy is created. Decisions and campaigns made by a government or party often require persuasion tactics to make them acceptable to the public, and these persuasive skills are prized in the political world. They can involve such skills as "oratory" – persuasive public speaking, and so on. Many PR related skills can be employed to persuade publics.

The communication, unsurprisingly, is not always effective, can be misinterpreted, and so on, and we see quite often how politicians fail to get the right message across, because of poorly executed communication. Mass Media and Politics The mass media and skilful use of it was an incredibly important part of the success of Labour's Campaign. An analysis is therefore required of the mass media and it's role within politics and political campaigning, and it's relationships within the field of politics. The mass media includes newspapers, (usually of a high circulation,) film, radio, and television.

(And increasingly in the 21st Century, the Internet. ) Marshall McLuhan, a 1960's media theorist, stated "the medium is the message", meaning that each medium of communication has it's own characteristics, determining how a message is communicated. The earliest accounts, dating back to the 1920's, including Walter Lippmanns' "Public Opinion" impressed the rapid growth and potential each of mass communications, and stressed that the public could easily be swayed by "propaganda" on the radio and in newspapers, and was possibly quite harmful for democracies.

For a while, this seemed to be confirmed by use of Mass Media by authoritarian regimes, but in the post war years, further development on this quite volatile area of political theory determined a "healthy balance", creating theories of "Partisan reinforcement" – where, when political campaigns were fought through mass media, it was seen that not only were opinions changed, but other opinions were reinforced.

It is these theories of Mass Media uptake and communication that explain a lot of the ways that helped Labour to victory. Along with issues such as press ownership in the UK, we will further explore the issues surrounding the mass media role.