Election 97: PRWeek’s panel of experts give their view on who’s winning the battle of political spin

Olly Grender, director of Communications for Shelter and former director of communications for the Liberal Democrats

Olly Grender, director of Communications for Shelter and former

director of communications for the Liberal Democrats

This week the tail wagged the dog, and I don’t mean poor old Fitz the

British Bulldog, star of the Labour Party election broadcast,

emasculated by an airbrush for the genteel electors of middle England.

Instead I am referring to the media’s love of a row. Remember Jennifer’s

Ear in the 1992 campaign? The media went berserk. There was coverage of

little else for a week but the British people weren’t interested. Now

look at the row about Europe and ask yourself whether with hindsight we

will be saying the same thing.

We should all be watching Labour’s Last Five Days Unit. It is an

excellent idea to separate out those who are responsible for the final

week of the campaign. There are dangers also. If anyone on the team

wants to make their name there might be a tendency to tweak the message

for its own sake. Holding their nerve will be crucial in the final five


Any campaign in a marginal seat will now be sending out their ’tactical

squeeze’ letters and leaflets. The case will be made that if you want

’so-and-so’ out then vote for me because the others don’t have a hope in

hell here. Bar charts will be making that case across the nation - one

could be dropping through your letter box now.

Verdict: Winner - Jacques Santer. I just wish I could work out whose

side he’s on.

John Underwoood, senior partner Clear Communication and former director

of communications for the Labour Party

What a funny old business politics is. Over the past week John Redwood

and his friends have done more to help get John Major re-elected than

Major has managed himself. The now Eurosceptic flavour of the

Conservative Party is clearly more popular than sitting on the fence and

that has helped the Tories, despite the traditional wisdom that split

parties do not win election campaigns. Furthermore the media coverage of

the European issue has drowned out most of Labour’s campaign


The Guardian ICM poll says that Labour’s lead has slumped.

Statistically, one in 20 opinion polls can be expected to be a ’rogue’

or a ’blip’ poll.

This is the one in 20. Other polls suggest the party is still well


Verdict: the Tories still have a mountain to climb because Labour will

outperform its national poll rating in its target seats.

Hugh Colver, public affairs consultant and former director of

communications for the Conservative Party

The other day I went to Nottingham for one of those raucous audience

participation discussion programmes run by Central Television. As usual,

the Labour supporters were the noisiest and whenever their party was

criticised they shouted: ’But don’t you see we’ve changed’.

However, many of them did not actually believe their party had changed

and, more particularly, certainly did not want it to change. For them

Labour can do anything or say anything - their vote is secure. The

Tories have this core support too. The battleground is therefore the

floaters and potential switchers and this week we have had the curious

spectacle of the two main parties competing on patriotism, the flag,

leadership and ’standing up for Britain in Europe’.

As we stagger into the last days of the campaign it is clear that tax,

Europe and leaders will decide it for the floaters and switchers, and

the latest polls show the gap closing.

Verdict: Week five to the Conservatives - thanks largely to Jacques


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