NEWS ANALYSIS: Election 2001 - Unscripted moments in election drama triumph. Every election campaign has a defining moment. In an otherwise lacklustre campaign, there is no doubting what that was this time around, says Joe Lepper

Remember 'Labour isn't working' from 1979? Or back in 1992 when The

Sun so skilfully asked the last person in Britain to 'turn off the

lights', should unsuccessful Labour leader Neil Kinnock get in.

Now, despite the campaign being in its final throes as PRWeek goes to

press, we already have an undisputed winner - that Prescott punch.

When the dust is cleared, when commentators and psephologists deliver

their analyses, the fact will remain that no matter how effective a

certain line on the economy or Europe is thought to be, this was the

year when the Deputy Prime Minister decked an egg-throwing country

dweller from Rhyl.

Of course the moment will not dictate the voting intentions of a


But according to former Labour press chief Colin Byrne, the incident was

this campaign's key event.

He said: 'For the first two weeks of the campaign we had nothing but

soundbites, nothing that engaged the public. Until the Prescott


This sent the media into a frenzy and people suddenly became interested

in the election. Suddenly messages about the issues were being


'We've had two decades of spin that I think are coming to an end. People

don't want to see stage-managed events anymore. The punch was

unscripted, it couldn't be planned, it couldn't be managed,' Byrne


Could this election really be a sign that spin is dead? Are people now

simply too media savvy to stomach obvious spin and planning?

If this is the case then surely the PROs behind the politicians must

retreat further into the shadows to increase their effectiveness.

The Liberal Democrat campaign has shown the effectiveness of this


In a climate of increasing public intolerance of media management, the

Lib Dems - and in particular Charles Kennedy - have shone.

Kennedy aides say the Lib Dem leader's success has taken even the party

by surprise. One said: 'It was all for him to prove and he has proved

himself by being himself. Our approach has been honest. Our message has

been that you can't get something for nothing and that's got


But some Labour sources say the Lib Dems have benefited from a lack of

criticism at a national level.

One source said: 'No-one has put any serious fire on them. They said

they'd put tax up by 1p but if you look at the figures that is nowhere

near enough to pay for the things they say it will.'

For the Tories, the election was lost before it began. But it would

appear they have also lost the campaign.

In Wales the party was hit by one of the most embarrassing blunders in

campaign history.

In the same bucket of PR shame as Kinnock's smug chant of 'we're

alright' at the badly timed Sheffield rally in 1992, must lie the

Conservative's Welsh language manifesto launch that was abandoned due to

shoddy translation of key words such as 'Tory' and 'Wales'.

Press Association Wales editor Jamie Lyons was at the launch. He says:

'They had this big fanfare for something very embarrassing that they

then pulled. That fact was widely reported. For days afterwards at

Central Office we kept asking for it. Eventually it turned up but this

time without the fanfare.'

But the problem with the Conservative campaign goes further than


The whole thrust has been towards their traditional supporters and, it

would appear, no-one else.

They have played to true blue issues, with Europe and immigration at the


It has appeared merely as a campaign of consolidation, which is

unacceptable for a major political party, according to one former Tory


'How on earth after four years have they allowed the situation to


This would not have happened with Margaret Thatcher. The reason people

vote is trust and Hague has failed to give the electorate the

reassurance they can trust him,' he says.

A recent MORI poll - where voters were asked which out of a list of

issues, were important in helping to decide which party to vote for -

suggests the Tories have it profoundly wrong.

The top issues were health and education, receiving 61 per cent and 53

per cent responses respectively.

Managing the economy and Europe, the two Tory battle cries, were

relatively low, gaining only 29 per cent and 18 per cent


During the final days of the campaign, Labour has followed this lead and

at the same time made an 11th hour plea to its core voters by focusing

on health and education.

Last week, for example, saw the unveiling of the Labour slogan, 'Urgent

reminder, vote for schools and hospitals this Thursday'.

Will Labour's campaign be seen as a success? In the final analysis, only

the result can determine that, but it is worth noting that immediately

after Labour's 1992 rally in Sheffield the event was seen in a good


The BBC's then political editor John Cole referred to it in the same

breath as the presidential campaigning of John F Kennedy in the


Perhaps in ten years' time analysts will look back at the Prescott punch

and gasp with shock at the PR success it marked for the Blair regime.

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