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It’s the most political time of the year

By Chris Kilgariff

It’s the most political time of the year

It’s election time again. That’s right, not even Christmas can put a pause on the current political roller coaster. So what does the next month of campaigning have in store for us? Let’s just say that the season of goodwill may be delayed for a few weeks this year…

 

 

1. Expect a lot of attack ads

 

This December will likely be one of the most contentious general elections in living memory. The electoral audience is split between ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’, a gridlocked parliament has caused months of toxic debate and politicians across the country are well into the swing of playing the blame game. Happy Christmas!

 

Spend five minutes on any one of the main party’s social media channels and you’ll see how the election has already descended into childish mud-slinging: Labour are the No. 1 threat to our national security and the Conservatives are having an NHS bonanza sale

 

Negative campaigning isn’t a new phenomenon and although it’s impact may be exacerbated by social media, it’s long predated it. British political parties, like their American counterparts, discovered years ago that it was much easier to criticise your opponent than it is to present your own ideas and risk ridicule.

 

The most successful political campaigns have almost always been built around pointing the finger at the opposition:

 

 

‘Labour isn’t working’, Saatchi & Saatchi, 1978/79:

 

 

Against the backdrop of the economic turmoil of the late 1970s, the dramatisation of Labour’s economic failing – conveyed through a snaking unemployment line - was an effective attack line. The brief to Saatchi & Saatchi was simple: ‘Don’t make any promises that you might not be able to keep. Instead, attack the opposition’s poor track record’.

 

 

‘Pocket Miliband’, M&C Saatchi, 2015:

 

 

When an electoral strategy based around the economy failed to gain traction with the electorate in 2015, M&C Saatchi came up with a simple idea. Highlighting the risk of a Labour minority government propped up by the Scottish National Party, they garnered cut-through for the Conservative party.

 

 

2. You’ll hear the B word (more from some parties than others)

 

With two-thirds of the electorate placing Brexit at the top of their most pressing issues for the 2019 election, it’s no surprise that two of the main parties have positioned themselves at polar ends of the debate.

 

    

 

 

Labour’s official policy is a little different. Unlike the Conservatives, who have negotiated a deal, and the Lib Dems, who are campaigning to stop Brexit altogether, the Labour offering is more nuanced. They aim to secure a new deal within three months and to hold a second referendum within six, if elected.

 

Strategically, Labour is trying to straddle two horses by courting both Leave and Remain voters. Their early campaign proposition ‘It’s time for real change’ attempts to move the debate on from Brexit, grounding the electoral narrative within traditional topics such as the NHS and education. This approach had some success in the 2017 campaign, though the question is whether a message which arguably side-lines the biggest issue of the day will resonate with voters once again.

 

 

3. You’ll need to check the facts.

 

I would highly recommend bookmarking the following two sites:

 

Fullfact.org – an independent UK fact-checking charity.

 

BBC Reality Check – The BBC team which looks to cut through political spin and focus on the facts.

 

Even at this early stage of the campaign, we’ve seen a wave of misleading information entering the political sphere and influencing the narrative. Despite what you may have read, Labour aren’t going to spend £1,200,000,000,000 in their first year, in the same way that a Conservative trade deal with the US is unlikely to cost the NHS £500,000,000 a week. There may be issues with both policy areas, but such hyperbole loses electoral trust.

 

Modern election campaigns are a battleground of misinformation. Although negative political campaigning isn’t a new phenomenon, it’s placed on steroids by the social media echo chamber. It’s never been easier to alter the truth and see it go viral.

 

We deserve a better kind of politics, one where the choice isn’t limited to selecting the least bad option. Even though we’re living in a divided country where negative campaigning festers and thrives, we need to ensure that we aren’t deterred from seeking the truth or completely switching off from politics altogether. It’s vital that we continue to question what is presented to us and to call it out when something doesn’t seem right.

 

 

The deadline for registering to vote in the UK is Tuesday 26 November with the general election taking place on Thursday 12 December. You can register to vote here.