General election campaign communication in perspective

2008-04-09T10:30:58Z (GMT) by Dominic Wring
The 2005 general election will probably be best remembered for resulting in an unprecedented third term for a Labour government, albeit on a reduced share of 35.2% of the poll (356 seats, down 56) against the Conservatives’ 32.4% (198, up 32), Liberal Democrats’ 22.0% (62, up 10) and others’ 10.4% (31, up 3). Despite a modest share of the vote, the party was returned with a comfortable working majority of 66. The prior campaign was a somewhat muted affair when compared with the massive debate over the Iraq situation that had engaged politicians, journalists and the wider public two years before. Although this crisis and its aftermath raised serious questions over the government’s conduct, the economy continued to remain a strong positive for Labour and helped the party to a further victory. A parallel can be made with the Conservatives’ third consecutive win amid the relative affluence of 1959 following another potentially debilitating (Suez) crisis in the Middle East. And like that earlier campaign the 2005 general election witnessed some innovative uses of strategic communication and saw the further crystallisation of a trend in favour of targeting key groups of ‘floating’ voters. Consequently many of the resulting messages were designed for less committed sections of the electorate rather than core supporters. Labour’s difficulties did, however, result in strategists giving greater attention to how the party might re-engage with loyal partisans whose votes it had hitherto appeared to have taken for granted.