Election 2010: Parties turn to old-school campaigning tactics to woo voters

As the tightest election race in years reached its climax, the three major parties returned to traditional campaigning techniques in a bid to sway voters on polling day.

Three-horse race: political party leaders
Three-horse race: political party leaders

As PRWeek went to press, polls continued to put the Conservatives in first place, despite the impressive performance of the Liberal Democrats during the general election campaign.

Writing in PRWeek, Lib Dem adviser Ian Wright pointed out that the influence of the three TV debates had been 'massive'. However, Wright also noted that the final week of the campaign was being dominated by more conventional strategies.

'The last week will show something of a return to a style of campaigning we saw in 1997,' predicted Wright. 'For the Lib Dems that has meant a high energy, high visibility, TV-orientated tour of constituencies on the edge of their most ambitious expectations,' he added.

The Conservative Party, meanwhile, has followed its bounce from the third leaders' debate with a disciplined effort to claw back the 'seven-or eight-point lead which two weeks ago seemed to have vanished', said former Conservative Party comms director Tim Collins.

The Labour Party, for its part, was hoping to benefit from Gordon Brown's strong performance earlier this week in his speech to Citizens UK. 'Many called it the speech of Brown's life; it put a spring in the step of Labour campaigners,' said former Labour special adviser Paul Richards.

The reappearance of traditional campaigning techniques comes after a campaign that, for the first time, has seen significant use of digital and social media. Many observers have pointed out that social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have boosted Lib Dem hopes in particular, and the party has employed a specialist social media consultancy in the shape of Windfall Media.

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PRWEEK ELECTION PANEL

Leading comms experts, with different allegiances, give their verdicts so far

PAUL RICHARDS - LABOUR

On Monday Gordon Brown gave a tub-thumping speech to Citizens UK at Methodist Central Hall. Many called it the speech of Brown's life; it put a spring in the step of Labour campaigners. Within hours Manish Sood, a Labour candidate in an unwinnable seat, called Brown the 'worst PM ever'. It was sign a that Labour's campaign is plagued by bad luck and hobbled by a lack of cash.

Yet despite the huge difference in funding between the Labour and Conservative campaigns, the Tory lead remains stubbornly small. Cameron has dropped below the magic 40 per cent, polling roughly the same as Michael Howard in 2005.

As PRWeek went to press, the prospect of a hung parliament was more likely than ever. Ed Balls and Peter Hain called, in easily decipherable code, for tactical voting to block a Tory majority government. The Mirror published a handy guide to where to do it. By this weekend, we will know if such desperate tactics worked.

- Paul Richards formerly advised cabinet ministers Patricia Hewitt and Hazel Blears, and is the author of How to Win an Election. He writes a weekly column for Progress

TIM COLLINS - CONSERVATIVES

The Conservatives hoped that this campaign would be 1997 in reverse - first you reassure the electorate that a change of government would not produce disaster, remind them why they hate the incumbent party, then stand back and count your majority.

It has not worked out like that. From the first TV debate, David Cameron and his team have had to swerve, manoeuvre and change strategy at a pace that was unimaginable a few months ago.

David is a much better fighter when his back is against the wall. He will either be a huge Tory hero or the man who missed the widest open goal any leader of the opposition has ever been offered.

Watching him claw back the very sevenor eight-point lead which two weeks ago seemed to have vanished in the wink of a TV camera's eye, it seems ever more likely that he will fill the hero's role.

The Conservatives are coming back to government - and David will be the man who delivered.

- Bell Pottinger Public Affairs MD Tim Collins is a former Conservative Party comms director and has served in the shadow cabinet

IAN WRIGHT - LIBERAL DEMOCRATS

The influence of the debates has been massive, but Cameron's bounce after the third debate evaporated within 48 hours - perhaps because no-one who saw it really thought he won.

The last week will show something of a return to a style of campaigning we saw in 1997. For the Lib Dems that has meant a high energy, high visibility TV-orientated tour of constituencies on the edge of their most ambitious expectations. The implicit message: 'We can win here.'

Endorsements from The Guardian, The Observer and Scotland on Sunday will help. So, too, will the Daily Mirror's call for tactical voting. But the party also faces the challenge of differentiation through the broadcast media. It must also defend against the Conservative media - particularly on immigration.

Finally, it must spell out a coherent policy message over the final hours. Do that and maintain a real belief among voters that the Lib Dems can win and, as Nick Clegg says, 'anything can happen'.

-Ian Wright has advised Liberal Democrat leaders Paddy Ashdown, Menzies Campbell and Nick Clegg. He now works in corporate comms

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