It wasn’t that many elections ago that party political broadcasts were quite an event, with the main TV channels broadcasting them virtually simultaneously and audiences tuning in dutifully if unenthusiastically to see what their leaders had to say.
There would be next to no briefing of what the broadcasts would contain, so their contents usually came as a complete surprise. Often they would become major news stories in their own right. Some even went on to become so famous that they ended up being released on home video.
Pretty much all of this has now changed. Election broadcasts are increasingly premiered online or social media before getting an airing on TV; accordingly they’ve lost much of their must-see status – or rather, their oh-well-go-on-then-if-we-must-see status.
They’ve also lost the ability to linger long in the memory. I can’t really remember any of the broadcasts from the 2010 campaign, save for Labour’s one with Sean Pertwee and David Morrissey.
Nonetheless we’re set for a bumper crop of broadcasts this election, thanks to Ofcom’s latest ruling that England and Wales no longer have merely three “major parties”, but four.
This means that the minimum number of party election broadcasts we’re going to see during the campaign is as follows:
- In Great Britain, two each for the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats; plus:
- in Scotland, two for the SNP;
- in Wales, two for Plaid Cymru;
- in Northern Ireland, two each for the Alliance Party, the DUP, Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists (even though the latter have no MPs);
- and in England and Wales (only), two for Ukip.
Broadcasters are also obliged to offer a minimum of one party election broadcast to any other party fielding candidates in at least one sixth of seats at the general election. This will apply to the Greens, who currently have candidates pencilled in for just over 400 seats, but I don’t think any other party will qualify.
All of this means the viewers of Wales are in for the most broadcasts during the campaign, with a minimum of 11 so far in the pipeline: two Tory, two Labour, two Lib Dem, two Ukip, two Plaid and one Green.
Whether they – or any of us – will remember any of them five years from now seems unlikely. I wonder how many we’ll remember after five minutes.