OPINION: Tories and Labour made election blunders

Election campaigns rarely change people's voting intentions but

even I expected the Tories to run a more effective one. Their biggest

mistake was not to have a strategy. When The Daily Telegraph headline

this week claimed 'Blair tries to counter new Tory tactics', they got it

dead right. The Tory campaign was all about tactics with a series of

stunts often decided at the last minute in response to media

criticism.



The polls show that the public's most important issues are health and

education, yet Hague did not visit one hospital or one school in the

first two weeks of the campaign. Virtually all we heard from the Tories

early on was 'save the pound', number 11 on the list of voters'

concerns. It is a mystery as to why they did this because all their

posters prior to the campaign were about why services were worse despite

higher taxes.



These were effective posters but the Tories failed to follow them up at

the start of the campaign.



Labour's pre-election posters were about Tory cuts, a theme that they

never let go. Once the Tories had accepted the game was up and they were

heading for defeat they tried another tactic, borrowed from Australia

but new to Britain: the Tories said that a landslide would be bad for

democracy. This rattled the Millbank machine but, instead of sticking to

this theme, Hague held a press conference telling us what they would do

in government. They seemed to bottle out and didn't press home the

attack.



The Tories could play the 'landslide card' because Blair's press

secretary Alastair Campbell had foolishly briefed Sunday papers on

Labour's private polling results. The fact is that so-called private

polling is no different from what we can all read in the papers, which

made Campbell's briefing even more puzzling.



Labour made other mistakes in the campaign. In particular, Blair's

battle-bus wasn't a success and Campbell would have been better off

minding Blair than spinning from Millbank. With Mandelson exiled to

'monkey-hanging' country, Millbank has been a happier place to work and

Gordon Brown was able to fight off those who, like Mandelson, didn't

want to emphasise the success of the economy. Al Gore may have made that

mistake in the US, but Brown wasn't going to. With the state of the

economy crucial to people's voting intentions, you may have thought that

the media would give the issue plenty of attention. You'd be wrong.



According to Loughborough University research, the economy got just 3.1

per cent of media coverage and way out in front was the election process

itself. If, like me, you had attended all the press conferences and

listened to all the news bulletins this will come as no surprise. The

media is obsessed with itself so much so that on TV news, political

commentators have actually spoken for nearly twice as long as the

politicians themselves. No wonder the voters have been turning off.



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