Academics analyse the UK’s 2017 General Election

The Political Studies Association and several academics from Bournemouth University have coordinated a quick turnaround analysis of the General Election.

I was very lucky to be asked to write something on the digital campaign.

You can see my take on the use of Facebook here

The alternate world of the parties’ Facebook posts #ge2017

The phony war is over.

Parliament has been dissolved, MPs are once again normal people, and the election campaign has begun in earnest with Theresa May getting out of the traps early with an attack on Europe’s leakers.

With so little notice that an election was coming much of the early campaigning has been done on social media.

So, what have we learnt so far from the parties’ election posts?

  • They don’t do news. The posts operate in a different universe where there is no news and everybody’s talking about the parties’ daily talking points. Here’s Tim Farron dealing once and for all with those questions about his views on gay sex and sin.
  • Grandstanding is grand. Asked a tough question at PMQs? Why not include your lengthy oration on your Facebook page and cut before your opponent has a chance to answer.
  • Everybody is playing nicely. It’s not just Jeremy Corbyn who is avoiding personal attacks, so far no-one has played dirty – unlike back in 2015. Well, almost no-one.
  • No-one has any policies. In 2015 all the parties spent a lot of time and effort explaining their costed manifestos. This time around they’re struggling to make it up as they go along.
  • Theresa May’s Downing Street speech announcing the snap election was a hit.

 

Of course, it is early days yet and the parties may yet decide to toughen up their social media communications.

But so far it is an alternative world of anodyne spin and pre-approved key messages.

Let’s hope Twitter is more fun…

#ge2017 – And they’re off, week one of the campaign

 

A slightly shortened week one of the General election campaign is complete and it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on what an extraordinary week it has been.

In every campaign in my adult life we have known broadly when the election would take place, even when Prime Ministers tried to use their prerogative powers for party advantage.

In 2015, for the first time, we knew the exact date of the poll years in advance and the parties meticulously planned campaigns.

This time everyone has been taken by surprise, even Conservatives outside the PM’s inner circle.

Last time around campaign messages were planned meticulously and political communications were thought through – the Conservatives had Miliband dancing to Salmond’s tune, the Green’s wanted to sing a different tune.

This time around the messages are still coalescing.

Looking at the first week’s Facebook posts some themes are emerging.

Labour are fighting with Corbyn front and centre, videos of stump speeches and clips from broadcast interviews have emphasised he’s a different kind of leader.

The Conservatives also have their leader at the heart of the first week’s campaign.

Theresa May’s surprise  Downing Street address was the most watched video released by a party this week, by a considerable margin. They were also the first to launch an election attack ad.

But the Liberal Democrats have had the most coherent first week on Facebook – the first branded election response was up by 11.19 on Tuesday morning, just minutes after May finished speaking and well ahead of Labour.

By midday they’d settled on their theme of avoiding a hard Brexit and hammered the message home all week.

The LSE’s Charlie Beckett has argued that if the polls are to be believed the election is a foregone conclusion, so journalists should concentrate on the issues and policies rather than the horse race. I think there’s a lot of truth in that.

But there’s no doubt personality will be the major battleground – the question from both Tories and Labour will be continually posed: “in the end, who do you trust?”

 

 

Why Theresa May will take part in a televised debate

Will she or won’t she? 

Theresa May has been quick to rule out taking part in a televised leaders’ debate as part of the General Election campaign.

It is the same old problem facing spin doctors in Downing Street.

On the one hand television delivers mass audiences and impact with voters.

On the other, your opponents may benefit more than you.

In most campaigns back as far as the early 1960s, Downing Street has successfully killed them off – sometimes with help from other party leaders.

The exception was in 2010 when Labour PM Gordon Brown felt he had little to lose and perhaps something to gain.

Following pressure from the broadcasters, and particularly Sky News, three leaders’ debates were aired.

The result was branded by the newspapers “Cleggmania” as everyone agreed with Nick.

But despite raised hopes of a breakthrough, on election night the Liberal Democrats actually lost five seats. 

By 2015 Prime Minister David Cameron was a lot less enthusiastic about the debates than he’d been as Leader of the Opposition.

After initially refusing to take part he finally agreed to a single leaders’ debate broadcast on ITV, as well as to being interviewed in series with Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg and a challengers’ debate, which took place without him.

There’s some evidence the TV debates did help him successfully increase his majority.

Watched by more than seven million people, a survey conducted just after the election by Panelbase found that 38% of sampled voters were influenced by the debates.

Now Theresa May’s opponents are accusing her of being frit, ITV is saying it will “empty chair” her by going ahead without her participation, and the Daily Mirror is digging out its chicken suit once again.

So when Theresa May says no, listen for the but…

The broadcasters are trying to find a format Downing Street will agree with and, one way or another, the election debates will take place and Theresa May will have a role in them.

George Osborne should quit as a MP to edit the Standard

Had a blog I wrote for the University of Northampton picked up by The Huffington Post.

You can see it here: