Opinion: Negative campaigns bring the voters out

Let's have a lot more election dirty tricks, personal attacks and negative campaigning.

Yes, I take a totally different view from that of the chattering middle classes, with their sanctimonious claptrap about the voters being 'turned off' by negative attacks,

I heard one commentator on TV at the weekend saying she was 'bored with the campaign already - and it hasn't even started yet'. But just imagine what it would be like if all we had to listen to were discussions about education and the NHS. Already this campaign is a little more exciting than the last one, although we will have to go a long way to beat John Prescott belting a voter in the mouth.

The boring brigade say they want to see a higher turnout, and so would I - but there is no evidence that negative campaigns put people off voting.

Indeed, the opposite is the case. As anyone who has spent any time in America during an election will testify, you can't get much more negative than a US political campaign. Even I am shocked at some of the election broadcasts. But look what happened to the turnout in what was regarded as the most negative campaign in history: it went up.

There are, however, some essential rules when being negative. For a start, you have to be positive too. It's no good spending the entire time attacking the opposition without explaining what it is that you would do. That's why Labour spent all weekend briefing about its tough immigration policy in a bid to counteract Tory plays on this issue.

The next trick is to make it look like it's only your opponents who use negative tactics. The Lib Dems have indulged in the most dirty tricks but, because they have a clean image, they get away with it. The other two usually slug it out, with a score draw the end result.

This year, however, it could all be different. Having dumped Alastair Campbell as a liability, Tony Blair has inexplicably brought him back to help out with the election campaign. This is proving to be a big mistake because he is someone whom the media - and, more importantly, the electorate - totally mistrusts. This is an open goal for the Tories, who are now able to blame everything on Campbell.

Everyone knows it was the Financial Times that requested information under the Freedom of Information Act about 'Black Wednesday', but Campbell still got the blame. He is even now seen as being responsible for the so called 'anti-semitic' non-posters, even though Campbell is as likely to come up with a poster design as he is to play as centre forward for his beloved Burnley FC.

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