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Month: May 2015

Negative Campaigning Does Not Need To Be Defended

By Annemarie Walter

The use of negative campaigning is hotly debated in almost every election campaign, and the current General Election is no exception. Negativity was already discussed before the last, ‘hot’, phase of the campaign.  Labour’s campaign chief Douglas Alexander announced in January that they discarded all plans to run billboard posters of David Cameron in what he said was a deliberate attempt to avoid “negative personalised adverts” and to raise the tone of debate. This announcement was made after (and in response to) a series of negative posters from the Conservatives attacking Ed Milliband.[1] More recently Ed Miliband was branded “shameful” by various Conservative politicians for suggesting that David Cameron was partly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean in a pre-briefed Chatham House speech.[2] Similar outrage was voiced by Labour politicians when Conservative defence secretary Michael Fallon stated that Ed Miliband had “stabbed his own brother in the back” to lead Labour and was now “willing to stab the UK in the back” by doing a deal on Trident with the SNP “to become PM”. To cite Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman: “To have accused Ed Miliband of being somebody who would stab the country in the back, I think that is negative campaigning – obviously they hope it’s going to work – but actually it undermines our democracy, because it turns people off.”[3]

Political pork chops

By Matthew Bailey

By the mid-sixties their television show was pulling in a regular audience of over 10 million viewers. In one year they had made more Las Vegas appearances than Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jnr combined, and having shared the stage at the Hollywood Bowl with The Beatles were now receiving more fan mail a week than the Fab Four themselves. They were: Pinky and Perky.

The two chirpy, high-pitched puppet pigs (created by a Czech husband and wife team Jan and Vlasta Dalibor) were part of an extremely lucrative merchandising campaign, proving popular – thanks to their early evening slot in the TV schedules – with both children and adults. The BBC had recognised their commercial worth and Pinky and Perky became the first film made by the corporation aimed exclusively for overseas sales

All this was put in jeopardy when Harold Wilson decided to try and extend his wafer-thin majority with an election in March 1966. At the time of the announcement Pinky and Perky were trotting their way through a series of programmes based on the theme of ‘You, too, can be a…’. The swines had their eyes set on the ‘top job’: they had decided they could be Prime Minister. The BBC were worried that this episode would upset their need for strict impartiality in the lead up to the vote.

Will Russell Brand endorsement deliver Britain’s alienated youth for Labour?

By Steven Fielding

As Britain’s longest-ever election campaign reaches its final excruciating moments, Russell Brand announced his support for the return of a Labour government.

A celebrity endorsement is not usually a matter of great political moment. But in a campaign which has failed to engender much enthusiasm, Brand’s announcement created a splash – for journalists at least. For Brand is no ordinary celebrity and his announcement marks a complete turnabout in his attitude to voting.

In 2013 Brand told the BBC that he had never voted and would never do so, because of “the lies, treachery and deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations”.

He encouraged others to abstain as the only way to bring about change. From that moment the media anointed Brand the leader of those largely urban, mostly young and often poor Britons disenchanted by a political system that did not represent them and expected them to bear much of the burden of austerity. A millionaire comedian maybe a paradoxical tribune of the streets, but that is what Brand effectively became.

The British and their Political Parties: How good is the electoral menu?

By Cees van der Eijk and Stuart Fox

In a previous post we discussed how approximately half of British voters hold multiple party preferences. For these voters, the electoral attractiveness of their second-best party is the same or almost the same as for their best party, which makes it easy for them to switch their vote intention during the campaign.

At first sight this may look like people are spoilt for choice – but there is a caveat. Electoral preferences were measured, for each party separately, on a scale from 0 to 10. A tie at the top could mean quite different things, depending on the strength of preferences that are tied. Indeed, those who rate two parties each at 10 on this scale are well served by the party system, as they have two options to choose from on polling day, each of which they find excellent. But if the two best parties are tied at 7, it suggests that neither of them are particularly electorally attractive.

A Bridge Too Far: Cameron’s choice in war films says more than he intends

By Steven Fielding

At the start of the 2015 election campaign David Cameron revealed to Daily Telegraph readers that he liked war films and in particular A Bridge Too Far.

As someone who has spent a fair share of my time watching films about World War Two, hoping to find what they tell us about the past they depict and the present in which they were made, I think Cameron’s choice of A Bridge Too Far as his favourite war film says more than he intends.

Presumably Cameron hoped he would appeal to elderly and nostalgia-ridden Telegraph readers who – if the content of the paper is anything to go by – have a view of the past dominated by benign monarchs and brave British soldiers. Yet, for a Conservative it is a paradoxical film to choose. Released in 1977, the last time Britain struggled to recover from an international crisis and its own economic and social problems, A Bridge Too Far depicted not a victory but the worst Allied defeat in World War Two. It was closely based on real events. In the late summer of 1944 General Bernard Montgomery persuaded Allied Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower that Germany could be knocked out if they dropped an unprecedented number of paratroops behind enemy lines to capture all the Dutch bridges they needed to cross the Rhine.

Pathe does elections: the 60s and the beginning of the end

By Matthew Bailey and Philip Cowley 

By the time of the first General Election of the 1960s Britain had seen 13 years of Tory rule. Over that same period the nation had also begun to embrace the medium of television. Whilst something exotic and geographically limited in 1950, ownership of a ‘set’ had steadily risen throughout the decade and by 1964 around 17 million homes had one. At the same time the limited schedule of a single channel had grown to three competing services by the time Alec Douglas-Home went to the country in October of 1964.

Pathe nonetheless continued to produce its round ups of the news and the General Election was no exception. Under the headline ‘Election Warms Up’, Pathe gives a rather glamorous account of campaigning across the country taking in the ‘youngest woman putting up for the House’, Liberal candidate for Chigwell, Gudrun Collis (alas she came third out of three) and a particularly energetic Patrick Jenkin running(!) between houses as he canvasses. There is the added glamour too of a trio of celebrity candidates as Pathe catches up with the campaigns of ‘handsome Lord Edward’ Dexter in Cardiff, comedian Jimmy Edwards (and moustache) in North Paddington and Screaming Lord Sutch standing against Labour leader Harold Wilson, but seen here campaigning in London. Sutch had announced that he would contest Wilson’s seat in order to fight discrimination against long hair and to seek knighthoods for The Beatles, however his nomination papers were rejected. The newsreel closes with shots of the two main party leaders: first Wilson at an election press conference (remember those?) and finally Douglas-Home facing a hostile crowd armed with ‘He Wants Polaris’ placards in St Pancreas.

The British and their Political Parties: Multiple preferences and their consequences

By Cees van der Eijk and Stuart Fox

Opinion polls published in the run up to the general election are mostly based on questions that ask which –if any– of the parties one intends to vote for. Such questions are seemingly simple, and lend themselves to a straightforward projection of vote shares. Yet, they also pose some problems when trying to gauge the partisan preferences of the public, let alone the ways in which the outcome may still change. The limitation of these questions is that they implicitly assume that people have a preference for just a single political party. We know, of course, that this is not true, as some people are genuinely torn between two parties. Relatively little attention is given, however, to how many such people there are, between which parties they hesitate, and how easy it is for them to switch. In this blog post, and a few that follow in the next few days, we look at such multiple party preferences.

Xi Jinping’s Pakistan visit: what’s left behind?

By Filippo Boni

The long-awaited visit has finally taken place. Xi Jinping’s first official visit abroad this year was to Islamabad, previously postponed due to the September 2014 dharna (sit-in) organised by Imran Khan’s PTI.  “I feel as if I am going to visit the home of my brother” said Xi Jinping ahead of his trip to Pakistan in an editorial published in the Daily Times, a tradition that the Chinese President inaugurated last fall at the dawn of his South Asian tour to Sri Lanka, the Maldives and India.

The arrival saw a red carpet welcome at the airport, and a reminder of the Pakistan and China’s long-standing joint defence cooperation with four JF 17 Fighters accompanying Xi’s plane as it entered Pakistani airspace. While reiterating the intangible dimension of Pakistan-Chinas’ “all-weather” narrative, the more tangible, substantive part of his trip was yet to come.

Nationalist Parties and Territorial Brokerage: Two Lessons from Europe

By Simon Toubeau

As elections day nears, we are no nearer an understanding of who will govern after May 7th.

One possible coalition that has become hotly contested is that between the Labour party and the Scottish National Party (SNP), first proposed by Nicola Sturgeon following the party leaders’ televised debates, when she “extended a hand of friendship” to Ed Milliband and to UK voters, in order to establish an ‘anti-austerity coalition’ against the Conservative party.

The reaction of the British media was to condemn this eventuality, with responses that ranged from the alarmist to the cautious: Piers Morgan declared in the Daily Mail that Nicola Sturgeon was “the world’s most dangerous woman”; Matthew Parris warned in The Times that the SNP would put the Union in “mortal danger”; Martin Wolf wrote in the Financial Times that SNP’s main interest was limited to “how much it can extract” from the UK.