Tories unveil plan for US-style 'watch parties' during general election debates

Conservative Party chairman Eric Pickles has revealed his party's secret weapon for capitalising on the TV debates that are expected to dominate the general election campaign.

Tory chairman Eric Pickles is a fan of watch parties
Tory chairman Eric Pickles is a fan of watch parties

Speaking to PRWeek, Pickles said the Tories planned to borrow an American concept by throwing a number of ‘watch parties' for supporters.

Under the plans, groups of Tory activists will gather together to socialise and watch the leaders' debates - while simultaneously providing a running commentary on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

As an incentive, those gathered at the watch parties could also be invited to take part in a conference call with a senior party figure.

Pickles said: ‘Watch parties don't have much of a tradition in Britain, but they're a great way of getting activists and their friends together in a fun and friendly environment. By bringing people together in this way, they're also a good opportunity to raise money and do some campaigning for the local candidate.'

In the 2008 US presidential election, the tactic was used by the Barack Obama campaign as supporters were encouraged to gather together to watch their candidate debating with rival John McCain.

A campaign website provided supporters with a guide to hosting their own watch party as well as a facility to find their nearest watch party. Obama supporters were told: ‘Hosting or attending a Debate Watch Party is a great way to connect with folks in your community and share Barack's message of change.'

The Tories tested out their plans last weekend by arranging watch parties for the Trevor McDonald documentary on leader David Cameron. Five events were set up by Tory candidates and members of Conservative Future, the party's youth wing.

All of those involved got a conference call from Pickles beforehand, and contributed to Twitter during the show - posting live comments and uploading pictures of their events.

According to Tory sources, the activity on Twitter on Sunday evening meant the programme was, at one point, in the top five most discussed issues on Twitter worldwide.

Pickles said: ‘It was great to see some of our young supporters getting together in different cities around the country to watch the David Cameron documentary. I could hear they were all having a good time when I rang them, and by following their enthusiastic tweeting.

'Now that the concept has been tested successfully we're keen to expand on the concept for the three big TV debates during the election campaign.'

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