The electoral system and it's function is also another key element that one must understand in order to effectively analyse the subject matter. It is in part the electoral system itself and the way it functions (apart from the obvious) that may have contributed to Labour's victory. "Wasted votes" and an old electoral system that encouraged voter apathy may have been help to Labour, but also in some ways a hindrance. The electoral system in the UK elects 659 single member constituencies each returning on member of Parliament.
The party that wins more votes than any other or is "first-past-the-post". This is now a relatively rare type of electoral system in the western world. There is a movement for reform in UK politics at the moment toward proportional representation where there is a more exact relationship between the amount of votes cast and seats won. Labour of course, won the 1997 election by a landslide using the older system. Several explanations can be given for why people vote the way they do – Issue voting is one example, where people choose their vote based on a policy issue.
Tactical voting has become popular with the rise of third and middle of the road parties, and leader impact has played a significant role in the 1997 and subsequent elections. Certainly the popularity of Tony Blair has been a significant factor. The issues raised here about the electoral system and trends within it in general are particularly relevant to the subject topic because of trends that may have come together in 1997 to give Labour victory. Party Ideologies The ideologies that surround political parties (i. e. the thinking behind their opinions) are central to determining voters' choices.
The Labour Party was seen to demonstrate a huge change in party ideology in the 1997 campaign, so to understand how Labour "reinvented" itself, one must understand how these ideologies work. The Labour Party and the Conservative party in the UK have right and left wing ideologies respectively. Ideologies are the basic principles behind the thinking and policies of a political party, and in theory should influence everything they do. Heywood (1997) defines ideology as: "a more or less coherent set of ideas that provides a basis for political action".
Conservative Ideology consists of: 1. Pragmatism – "common sense" rather than theory 2. Gradualism – rejection of radical change 3. Imperfect nature of man 4. Distrust of reason, importance of tradition 5. Hierarchy, and leadership 6. Defence of property 7. Social interdependence – obligation to help the poor 8. Need for strong government, law and order 9. Nationalism In Contrast, Key Labour Ideology consists of: 1. Trade Unionism 2. Parliamentary 3. Gradualist (Fabian socialism) 4. Equality and Redistribution 5. Reformist and progressionist 6.
Strong ethical element (Christian socialism) These individual ideologies have remained traditional to these parties since their inception, and have modified as times have required. In the 1997 election however, we saw a distinct move by Labour toward more conservative views, ideologically. Becoming known as "New Labour", it was perhaps as an attempt to agree with more of the mainstream views of the populace, and groups such as the business community and trade unions. As is evident, it was a popular change in views for the now governmental party. Part 2 – Case Study
As stated before, the General Election Campaign of 1997 was one that was very much fought on the "media battleground" and one that involved the Mass Media more than almost any other past election. In this section we will look at the tactics put into play by Labour and the Conservatives at the 1997 campaign, and how this affected the polls. The campaigns mounted by each of the two main contenders in 1997 was unique in it's own ways of communicating. According to Butler and Kavanagh "By common consent Labour's campaign was a major leap in the techniques of controlled electioneering".
It was constructed around a main grouping of party leaders who stayed ruthlessly on message to the point of robotic repetition of key themes and slogans. Interestingly enough though, Labour lost ground in the opinion polls during the campaign, slipping by seven points in the six weeks of campaigning. The campaign was overwhelmingly fought in the television news arena. We saw what became "the battle of the agendas" with each party trying to raise the news agenda of whatever issues it considers most useful to it's campaign.
There was a particular tussle to get to the top of the news agenda because political advertising, as we know is banned on TV. The BBC in this case was in the unique position of having to provide balanced coverage for each party because of its' public service obligation. Below are a selection of the main communication related events in the campaign, and the eventual outcome in more detail. By selecting and studying main campaign events and themes, the hope is to show a picture of how political communication won (or lost) the election. It's the Sun Wot Won It – Involvement of the newspaper media
The involvement of the newspaper media in the 1997 was varied and quite broad. The main event of the newspaper media's involvement was the "It's the Sun Wot Won It" headline – this headline originally quoted after the 1992 election, became particularly relevant in 1997 because of The Sun's decision to switch support to Labour. Certainly the newspaper's position as the highest readership newspaper in the UK provided a positive electoral boost to Tony Blair, and with reporting in the paper becoming widely pro-Blair, speculation ensued about a deal between Tony Blair and Rupert Murdoch.
This was not the only newspaper related surprise in the campaign. The usually staunch Tory Daily Mail decided they would not necessarily support the Conservatives either. At the very end of the campaign, Rupert Murdoch's News of the World also broke with precedent by supporting Labour. This gave Labour a lead on press readership of over 10million, and marked one of the biggest surprises, with most previously pro-Tory papers strongly critcal of the government on their European policy.
Through careful use of these press endorsements, it is my belief that Labour managed to gain a substantial advantage in the race, and still uses the press with as much evident skill today. Not even a chance – The headline opinion polls The switch in newspaper allegiance was just one of the more unusual aspects of this campaign. Labour may have had an easy ride on the back of a Conservative party perceived as "sleaze ridden" by recent press coverage, but even at the outset, headline opinion polls showed on average, a 22 per cent lead for Labour.
None gave the Conservatives more than 31 per cent of the vote. While there was skepticism in the press initially of this result, it was eventually proved that Labour would stay overwhelmingly ahead and that only 3 surveys would show the Conservatives above 33 per cent of the possible vote. Until the end, both parties and indeed the media at large (possibly in an attempt to counter voter apathy) attempted to portray the possibility of a close finish, but most commentators based their thinking on the fact that Labour had won.