Election campaign

There now follows an election broadcast on behalf of… how many parties?

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.


2 responses to ‘There now follows an election broadcast on behalf of… how many parties?

  1. ‘The Decline and Fall of the Party Political Broadcast’ would be a great PhD thesis for someone. I remember when they were literally compulsory viewing when they were broadcast simultaneously on the only three channels available. Now, you have to practically make a conscious effort to find and watch them. They seem rather anachronistic in a multi-channel, multi-media world.

  2. It’s interesting how given the old party system is supposed to be falling apart, this will probably be the election with the fewest parties having Party Political Broadcasts for many years. In the past the BNP and Natural Law Party would always get one, plus parties like Socialist Labour, the Jury Team and the Referendum Party had them in the various elections as well. But just the five this time, it seems.

    I remember before the European Elections in 1994 there was a week of PPBs for small parties and because they were still on at 9pm on BBC1 and 10pm on ITV they were really high profile – I think that was when we had the first ever UKIP PPB, with Dr Alan Sked and Leo McKern (“why thank you, Dr Sked! I for one am very impressed!”) plus a Natural Law one that everyone was talking about, and I think the last ever Liberal Party PPB.

    For what it’s worth, all PPBs stopped being simulcast in 1980 but Labour were against it so there was a compromise where half their broadcasts were allowed to be simulcast. But after a while they stopped that, I think the last time it happened was in 1981.

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