Seven reasons the Conservatives won the PR election (or the others lost it)

The economy? Milifandom? Bacon sandwiches? PRWeek deputy editor John Harrington gives his take on where the general election was won and where it was lost.

1) The economy, stupid. When all’s said and done, the Tories played to their strengths and played it well. Taking credit for the economic recovery, and contrasting it with Labour’s record, gave them a strong hand from the outset.

2) Labour’s message was confused and unclear. Its "cost of living crisis" message, once a staple of party rhetoric, was shoved to one side, replaced by vaguer notions of fairness and building a "better Britain". Emphasising its commitment to the NHS and public services in general is always a crowd pleaser, particularly to Labour’s grassroots, but it failed to seriously elevate the party beyond that. Frequently, Labour’s campaign ‘gimmicks’, such as Harriet Harman’s Pink Bus or Ed Miliband’s ‘Ed stone’ pledges on a stone plinth, fell flat or were roundly mocked. Miliband’s high-profile meeting with Russell Brand probably did little to endear him to centre-ground voters. While David Cameron was able to nullify much of the electoral threat from UKIP, Miliband failed to do the same in Scotland, where the party was left with a solitary seat after the Scottish National Party surge.

3) The leaders. The younger Miliband brother never appeared like the kind of politician who would win an election, and so it proved. While even his detractors would admit that Cameron exuded a statesman-like aura, the Labour leader never had the same poise or charisma to look like a Prime Minister in waiting. Let’s not even mention bacon sandwiches.

4) The Conservatives 'do fear' better. The election showed that, by and large, British voters are a small-c conservative bunch when it comes to putting a cross in a box, so emphasising the fear of the unknown can be a great political weapon. What better example than the Scottish independence vote? The Tories played a blinder by stoking up fear of a Labour government propped up by the SNP, despite denials from Miliband that a deal would be done with Nicola Sturgeon’s party.

5) The Liberal Democrats are broken. At the time of writing, the Lib Dems have secured just eight seats, with party heavyweights such as Business Secretary Vince Cable and former deputy leader Simon Hughes being voted out. The Lib Dems' central message, that it will give a heart to a Conservative Government and a head to a Labour one, failed to resonate with an electorate that had grown cynical after five years of coalition rule. The party never really recovered from the reputational damage caused by its U-turn on tuition fees, and unlike the Tories, it appeared to have gained no political advantage from the improving economy.

6) It’s not all about social media. Labour supporters may have been more vocal on social media, but the election has proved that winning the silent majority requires a lot more than harnessing the power of the new technology. Until it does we’re probably some way short of having a first truly social media election. Milifandom, the short-lived, social media-led campaign to portray Miliband as some kind of desirable heartthrob, didn’t translate into votes.

7) The newspapers went blue. The final days before the vote saw the major national titles swing unambiguously behind the Conservatives, with just two – the Mirror and The Guardian/Observer – holding on to their support for Labour (if we discount the curious situation of The Sun supporting the Conservatives in Westminster and the SNP in Scotland, and the Independent, bizarrely, backing the Tory/Lib Dem coalition). UKIP leader Nigel Farage may have complained of the BBC’s left-leaning "bias", but while the majority of the nation’s tabloids and broadsheets are happy to nail their colours to the blue mast, this would always give a huge advantage to the Tories.

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