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How has political campaigning in the UK evolved since the Second World War, and what factors have influenced these changes?

How has political campaigning in the UK evolved since the Second World War, and what factors have influenced these changes?


Political campaigning in the United Kingdom has undergone a significant evolution since the Second World War. The evolution has been influenced by several factors, top among them being technological advancements in communication. Technological advancements, from improvements in the press, through television to the internet have had a huge impact on the way political campaigns are done in the United Kingdom. Over time, political marketing has become a core part of political campaigning in the country.  Since the Second World War, political campaigning has become more professional with services of communication professionals, spin doctors being highly sought during political campaigns. Others, however, point out that over the time; political campaigning in the United Kingdom has become more Americanized. Political campaigns have become more professionalized. They have become more capital intensive, as opposed to being labor intensive.[G1] [G2] 

This paper will analyze the scope of political campaigns in the UK beginning after the Second World War, and how different[G3]  technological advancements over the decades have influenced the elections. One issue of critical importance is the use of political marketing that was witnessed in the run-up to the 1997 elections in which Tony Blair and his [G4] [G5] [G6] [G7] [G8] [G9] [G10] [G11] [G12] Labor Party emerged the top.  [G13] [G14] [G15] [G16] 


Political analysts point out that the 90s brought many developments to the political landscape in the United Kingdom. It [G17] [G18] [G19] [G20] [G21] is not only coming with the introduction of new political ideology in the country, but it was also a big win for political marketing. Esser, Reinemann and Fan (2000) note that the political campaign games are no longer played the same way they used to be played [G22] before. Parties are now employing the use of advertising experts, communication experts, management consultants and several other experts, all in a bid to win elections. The parties manage to bring all these professionals together, and they benefit by having better pre-election publicity, more efficiently organized parties, better relationship with mass media, [G23] [G24] [G25] [G26] [G27] [G28] [G29] [G30] and better ideological content with which to woo the masses. [G31] [G32] [G33] [G34] 

One of the most visible evolutions in political campaigning in the UK political campaigns is spin doctoring. Spin doctoring refers to influencing public opinion by skewing information presented to the public in the favor of a candidate. In most cases, spin doctors work behind the glare of media cameras but are a popular source of news for the media. They work to ensure that news reporters give their stories a favorable angle without letting the public know it’s them who gave the angle to the story.  They thrive by giving favorable meaning to facts and figures and sharing that meaning with the public (Jenifer, 2001, P. 1075). So popular has spin doctoring become, that almost everyone considers it a normal aspect of political campaigning. [G35] However, this was not the norm in the early days after the Second World War. A good example of the use of spin doctoring in political campaigns is Tony Blair’s 2007 campaigns in which his Labor party beat their opponents.  [G36] [G37] [G38] [G39] [G40] [G41] 

Blair introduced a new style of politics, which he referred to as the third way. His style of politics was something between the hard-line stance taken by a Thatcher politics and the traditional socialism. So successful was Blair’s brand of politics that even Germany’s Social Democratic Party decided to have a similar campaign strategy; and won. Peter Mandelson, who is considered the topmost spin doctor for Blair was charged with the responsibility of publishing a book on the third way for his party. Mandelson was an experienced campaign professional who was highly respected by opponents and greatly disliked by traditionalists within his party. [G42] 

Some of the major variations that have been witnessed in political campaigning in the UK include parties having centralized campaign communication and planning, and employment of [G43] [G44] professionals, especially from Public relations, marketing and advertising, in addition to other politicians (Wring, 1996). With such experts, political parties are able to come up with, and execute effective integrated communication strategy.  The change in campaign strategy was in response to changes in voting patterns of the electorate. It was also triggered by expansion and diversification of mass media and domination of politics by mass communicated messages.  [G45] [G46] [G47] 

Esser, Reinemann & Fan, point out that, “elections have become increasingly media affairs rather than party affairs,” (2000, p. 5). This is part of the Americanization of UK politics considering that the practice is borrowed from the US where the media has taken over the role of organizing campaigns formerly held by the parties.  Over time, the role of political parties in political campaigns has decreased considerably while that of political consultants has increased tremendously. Political campaigns are now tailored to suit a specific candidate as opposed to[G48]  promoting the party as a whole.  Despite the fact that political parties in the United Kingdom are stronger than in the United States, political party consulting business is flourishing in the country (Wring, Mortimore & Atkinson, 2011). This is evident as a sign that even political parties in the United Kingdom acknowledge their diminishing role in political ca[G49] [G50] [G51] mpaigns.  This is so, even though political parties in Europe have vast experience in campaigns and have accumulated specialist knowledge and campaign expertise within party machineries.[G52] [G53] [G54] [G55] [G56] [G57] [G58] [G59] [G60] [G61] [G62] 

The changes  that have been realized about by spin doctoring in UK campaigns cannot be ignored.  “Those who can use the media to their advantage can shape reality,” ([G63] [G64] [G65] Esser, Reinemann & Fan, 2000, 6).  In political campaigns, they not only ensure that favorable messages are aired, but they also ensure that negative messages either disappear or are [G66] aired with a balanced counter argument. Since 1997 political parties in United Kingdom largely employed spin doctoring with an aim to give good publicity to their political parties and political candidates.  This is done by either dealing directly with the media, working to improve party campaigns, or even fighting campaign by the opposition.  Spin doctoring mainly focuses on either managing news and manipulating media or attacking the opposition.[G67] [G68] [G69] 

One major change that political campaigns have witnessed since the Second World War is the centralization of communication. Over time parties have realized that it is very important that they appear united during their campaigns (Blumer & Kavanagh, 1999, p. 209). Hence the party has to make efforts to reduce the issuance of divergent opinions to the public. The parties realized that to succeed; the parties had to ensure that all party leaders made public pronouncements that were in line with party policy. This has brought about centralization of party communication. This was clearly visible during Tony Blair’s 1997 campaigns, notes ([G70] Esser, Reinemann & Fan, 2000).  The labor party in its campaigns ensured that all members gave messages in line with the party policy. All claims of the opposition were rebutted immediately in order to induce a different opinion. [G71] 

Since Second World War people have increased their dependence on media as a sole source of vital information[G72] [G73]  (Norris, 1997). To respond to this change, political party campaign machineries have resulted in intensified media monitoring. Most of them monitor what going on in the media round the clock is. This enables them not only[G74]  to keep abreast on what is happening in the nation[G75] [G76] [G77] , but also offer rebuttals to attacks from opposition almost immediately. Media monitoring helps campaign machineries in the United Kingdom be both proactive as well as reactive in good time (Norris, 2000). To have inside information about the inner workings of the media, political parties in the UK gather information about the media’s inner workings[G78] the media, and the preferences of individual journalists. Armed with this information the spin doctors then try to influence journalists to give precedence to their stories by using a number of methods. These include making them feel that they have gotten the information ahead of their colleagues in other stories as well as making them feel that they have access to inside information.  [G79] [G80] [G81] [G82] [G83] [G84] 

Development of Technology and Marketing in Political Campaigning:

At the time around, and after the World War II, little could have been said about technology and its ability to reach hundreds or thousands of audiences. The political, and other forms of campaigns were carried out through the word of mouth, and in order to reach more people, campaigners would have to travel widely to get in contact with their audience[G85] [G86] [G87] [G88] [G89]  (Denver, Carman & Johns, 2012). The success of political campaigns was pegged on the ability of the campaigners to travel far and wide in the hunt for votes. This would require them to meet physically with the electorate and address them, explain their policies and convince the eligible voters to vote for them. The more people reached out [G90] [G91] [G92] [G93] during such campaigns, the higher the chances one would have for getting elected into political office. When meeting the electorate, those seeking office had to impress, and this was achieved [G94] by the use of a convincing language, as well as, gestures of kindness and gentleness, such as shaking people’s hands, walking around with them or even having a meal together. This would send the message that a leader would be easily accessible by all and that one would always be available to listen to the people. [G95] [G96] [G97] [G98] [G99] [G100] [G101] [G102] 

Incorporation of Technology in Political Campaigns:

Technology quickly evolved, for example, the television and its ability to relay information to millions of people at the same time. Back in the day, television was a highly valued piece of technology, and it created a spark. Political parties and leaders seeking office took to the newly found medium to communicate to their electorate. A single advert on television would [G103] [G104] be viewed by millions of people and thus reducing the need by those seeking office to travel widely. Campaigners would focus on travelling to areas where television sets were likely unavailable to reach out to those who couldn’t afford television sets. This would most likely be in rural areas.

The people that watched the campaigns on television would quickly spread word on how particular leaders presented themselves on TV to seek for votes (Paul, Phill & Barbara, 2002, P. 6). This created the image of visionary leaders who embraced technology and its advancement for the benefit of the people. In addition, it is common that the electorate tends to get moved by leaders who portray a sense of embracing the needs of the people. The television created a stepping stone for any political parties or individuals who used it to campaign. The result was that those who fully exploited the television in their campaigning won in the elections. This was observed in all other parts of Europe and America in elections held at around the same time. 

After the television, the use of printed posters made a revolution in the way political parties and individuals campaigned. Flyers, posters, brochures and other forms of print quickly became the norm in the advertising sector. Those seeking office would have posters printed and displayed appropriately to catch the eyes of as many people as possible[G105]  (Denver, 2003). They were well displayed on the roadsides and in areas that were frequented by large numbers of people. This was done in addition to the use of television and physical meetings of the electors. This meant that those seeking office had many avenues to exploit in order to attract the attention of voters. The use of close allies or party members to campaign physically for the individual or party meant that a stronger representation of the party would be made in addition to posters and the appearance on TV. [G106] 

During this time, advertising became popular and aided the growth of the media fraternity, or industry[G107] , in particular the television and print[G108] [G109] [G110]  media. In the subsequent years, the media became an integral part of political campaigns, and it became evident that the victory in politics was only guaranteed to those who were willing to invest heavily in the use of the media to reach out to the electorate[G111] [G112]  (Rosenbaum, 1997).[G113] [G114] [G115] [G116] 

Later on in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the use of the internet began to shape up the campaigning processes, and this created a new platform on which more voters would be reached. The internet was the latest technological advancement at the time. Just as the television had received attention at its advent, the internet was no different. [G117] The internet is believed to have received a greater attention due to its ability to provide an individual with specific information that the user would need. This was in contrast to the television that had predetermined programs and adverts.

In addition to the ability to provide specific information, the web could also be used to reach out to specific target groups. This process was referr[G118] [G119] [G120] [G121] ed to as narrowcasting. It enabled the internet user to address people within a specific area of interest. For example, persons within a particular profession would have organizations or unions which had an online presence. Other people within a society also had [G122] online presences depending on their common interests. This made it easier for campaigners to reach out to these groups of people and address their needs from a specific interest perspective. For example, civil servants would be addressed separately from business people and it would be a different approach when dealing with foreign, or domestic investors. Other interest groups would also be woed according to their needs and possible contributions to the political party or to the leader[G123]  (Butler, 1945).[G124] [G125] [G126] [G127] [G128] [G129] [G130] [G131] 

Professional Advertising in Political Campaigns:

The introduction of professionals into the campaigning procedures was also a move that greatly impacted the outcomes of elections. Political parties would invest in Public Relations experts, advertising experts and other professionals who had the knowledge and skills to influence the outcomes of elections. This process was referred to as Americanization or professionalization of the electoral process. In the UK, the Labor Party intensely invested in the professionalization of the campaigns leading to the 1997 general elections (Butler & Kavanagh 1997).

In the earlier elections held in 1983 and in 1987, the Labor Party had focused on different interests that did not specifically get the approval of the public. In 1983, for example, the party focused more on the policies it believed to be right. This change can be seen to mirror the development of marketing orientation in [G132] commercial terms. Unlike sales-led, media campaigning in which organizers are simply called to investigate voters’ opinions, modern political marketing requires a more comprehensive, holistic approach to electoral strategy, one which calls for research that goes far deeper than this. The new marketing concept is interested in the basic political needs and wants of the voters[G133] [G134]  (Kavanagh, 1995). Put simply, opinion research, as the representative of the electorate, begins to take on an important policy perspective in addition to its existing presentational role. Margaret Thatcher’s leadership proved to be a  pace-setter in Britain’s political campaigning. Although she lost in the two general elections in 1974, Thatcher rose the ranks to be elected the Conservative party leader in the year 1975. She used a position to establish [G135] [G136] [G137] [G138] [G139] [G140] [G141] [G142] [G143] [G144] [G145] [G146] [G147] [G148] [G149] [G150] [G151] [G152] [G153] [G154] [G155] [G156] [G157] [G158] [G159] [G160] [G161] [G162] [G163] [G164] [G165] [G166] [G167] [G168] [G169] [G170] [G171] [G172] [G173] [G174] [G175] [G176] [G177] [G178] [G179] good working[G180] [G181]  relationships with the media companies.

[G182] [G183] [G184] [G185] [G186] [G187] [G188] [G189] [G190] [G191] [G192] [G193] [G194] [G195] [G196] [G197] [G198] [G199] [G200] [G201] [G202] [G203] [G204] [G205] [G206] [G207] [G208] [G209] [G210] [G211] [G212] [G213] [G214] [G215] [G216] [G217] [G218] [G219] [G220] [G221] [G222] [G223] [G224] [G225] [G226] [G227] [G228] [G229] [G230] [G231] [G232] [G233] [G234] [G235] [G236] [G237] [G238] [G239] [G240] [G241] [G242] [G243] [G244] 


In sum, political campaigning in the UK has been so much influenced by the development in technology. Political marketing, professionalization and Americanization are some, among the major concepts that have been incorporated into the system of political campaigning in the UK. The need to realize the expectations, and interests the people, of the people win votes, and get the support of the majority are among the many aspects that have led to the incorporation of technology in political party marketing. The political marketing strategy was employed by the labor party in the elections of the year 1997 and led to the achievement of victory. Since then, political marketing through advanced technology has been a common and growing feature of political campaigns in Britain.[G245] [G246] [G247] [G248] [G249] [G250] [G251] [G252] [G253] [G254] [G255] [G256] [G257] [G258] [G259] [G260] [G261] [G262] [G263] [G264] [G265] [G266] [G267] [G268] [G269] [G270] [G271] 


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