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

In the battle for the ’agenda’ the Conservatives had two clear chances to score. On Wednesday the main news story could have been ’Unemployment down again’ and on Thursday ’Inflation still falling’.

In the battle for the ’agenda’ the Conservatives had two

clear chances to score. On Wednesday the main news story could

have been ’Unemployment down again’ and on Thursday ’Inflation

still falling’.

Instead, Labour dominated the airwaves with a row about the date

on which Parliament was to be prorogued and the political mood

music was all about Tory sleaze.

But perhaps the most significant Tory misjudgement concerns the

much heralded Blair/Major TV debate. Research in the USA

indicates that when two political candidates agree to debate on

TV the polls tend to ’freeze’ until the debate is broadcast. It

is as if the voters were suspending their judgment until they see

the two protagonists head-to-head.

The perceived wisdom is that the candidate running behind in the

polls should try to get the debate aired as quickly as possible,

but Major seems perfectly happy to allow discussions over the

format to drift on and the debate itself to take place a week or

two before polling day.

If that happens Labour is likely to remain 20 points ahead for at

least another month.

Verdict: Week one to Labour

On the face of it, the campaign started well for Labour. They

drowned out two key examples of outstanding economic performance

with ’sleaze’.

The Tories suffered incumbent Government syndrome again, and the

awkwardness of the timetable gave Labour a propaganda coup.

However, through it all the personal John Major factor seemed to

shine out. He made it presidential by stepping out alone into

Downing Street to announce the election date. It was reminiscent

of ’put up or shut up’ at the time of the leadership contest.

Then he was off to Luton with the soapbox on which he raised his

game to victory in 1992. That was a good start. The straight and

honest John Major - now cast as the underdog - signalled his

intent to fight on the streets. If Labour overdoes the attack on

’honest John’ it will backfire.

Verdict: Week one to Labour by a whisker

Sun, sleaze and soapboxes have been the flavour of the week. It

was the Sun wot spun it at the beginning of the campaign with

their support for Labour. If I were part of the Labour team I

would have preferred the Sun to act after Easter. This will be a

long campaign and the Sun’s declaration is a great story which

would have boosted the campaign at a later stage.

The sleaze story is bad news for the Tories and hats off to the

Lib Dems for first whipping up the storm in Prime Minister’s

Question Time. However a word of warning on the sleaze angle. If

enough newspapers overdo it then I believe the general public

will get bored.

The Conservatives have put forward a powerful message as a result

of kicking off the TV debate. The debate puts across a powerful

message about the election being a two horse race. This can only

do damage for Lib Dems in seats where they are challenging the


Verdict: Winners of the week are the media - they’ve managed to

write about themselves again. Losers are, as ever, the


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