Comms chiefs predict first 'internet election' in the UK

Political communications experts are cautiously predicting the UK's first 'internet election' as the main political parties step up their campaigning.

Original poster: Conservatives
Original poster: Conservatives

PRWeek asked a number of senior figures in the public affairs industry whether the parties' campaigning tactics so far pointed towards the UK's first internet election.

Hanover MD Charles Lewington and Weber Shandwick public affairs chairman Jon McLeod agreed that the internet would play a key role - but suggested that mainstream media remained the most effective way of talking to voters.

Portland associate partner George Pascoe-Watson was also cautious about overplaying the role of the web. He said: 'This will be Britain's first general election with a significant internet contribution for the media.'

The Conservative Party kicked off its general election drive last week with the launch of a £400,000 poster campaign and the publication of a draft health manifesto.

Also, the Tories used Google's 'Moderator' to initiate an online consultation on the draft health manifesto - attracting more than 40,000 visitors in the first four days.

But the Tories also faced flak on the web as Labour bloggers mocked up spoof versions of the Tory ad and a variety of alternative Tory ads began circulating in the political blogosphere. Spoof site mydavidcameron.com claimed to have had more than 9,000 visitors as PRWeek went to press.

For its part, the Labour Party has seen thousands of supporters visiting websites such as backtheban.com, which asks people to campaign to keep the ban on fox-hunting.

The party's new media campaigns spokesperson, Kerry McCarthy, said: 'New media campaigning will play a more important role than before at the coming election.

'We will be using online campaigning to engage with people on the issues about which they are passionate.'

Meanwhile, Fishburn Hedges director Simon Redfern said that for all three main political parties 'the real value of online engagement would be in raising cash for web-savvy candidates'.

Liberal Democrat CEO Chris Fox agreed with Redfern. Fox said his party used a range of online tactics to promote this week's campaign launch by leader Nick Clegg, but also highlighted a new 'social network' set up by the party to enable supporters to become directly involved in campaigns.

TIMELINE

- 11 January: Nick Clegg hits out at rival parties' campaigning, citing 'airbrushed posters (and) meaningless slogans'.

- 6 January: A spoof of the Tory ad poster appears on John Prescott's GoFourth website - the first of many.

- 5 January: Labour launches election campaign outlining a '£34bn black hole' in Tory spending plans. David Blunkett warns the party is going into an election at a huge financial disadvantage.

- 3 January: Tories unveil a draft health manifesto and invite feedback on the web. Posters go up in 1,000 locations, and shadow cabinet ministers campaign in key marginals.

£8m - Current Labour Party national campaign budget*
£18m - Amount Tories expected to spend on national campaign*
£18m - Legal maximum spend for national campaigning**
£40k - Legal maximum spend for candidates at local level**

*According to media reports **According to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000

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