The latest title in the Palgrave Studies in Political Marketing and Management series analyses the UK 2015 General Election through a political marketing lens. Dr Lilleker, an established expert in the study of election campaigning and Dr Mark Pack a highly experienced practitioner and consultant have brought together a team of academics to offer new insights into the competitors, their campaigns and the outcome. The edited collection Political Marketing in the 2015 UK General Election will be published soon by Palgrave.
The context for the contest was highly complex. The aftermath of the Scottish referendum was reverberating, with Scottish nationalism threatening the mainstream parties. An EU referendum was expected, and questions of sovereignty and immigration were high on the agenda. The polls showed little between the parties. Therefore the contest appeared anybody’s to lose. But behind the scenes polls showed that erstwhile Liberal Democrats and wavering voters preferred a Cameron-led government and if the messages were right their vote was ripe for picking.
The chapters highlight how the messages developed by Lynton Crosby for the Conservatives were the right messages, with Labour failing to impact on the narrative that it had been their government who created the conditions for economic collapse in 2008. The long term economic plan narrative was the core feature of the Conservative manifesto, reinforced in their online and mainstream advertising campaign. In contrast Labour attempted to offer austerity-lite, a fairer version of Conservative economic policy that perhaps made voters think if they were going to have austerity, better have a competent team administering policy. While the Liberal Democrats once again assumed they would be coalition kingmaker, offering a heart to the Conservatives and a brain to Labour, they succumbed to the Conservatives’ black widow strategy: the plan to eat up the support of their partners in the 2010-15 administration. The only other party with a noteworthy campaign was the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), offering themselves as a strong voice for Scotland in a blunt dichotomy of choice between us (the Scottish party) versus them (the English parties). The SNP were also most innovative online, developing a relationship marketing approach to garnering and harnessing support.
The volume also encompasses an analysis of the media and media management successes of the parties. While the Conservatives focused on a below the radar campaign in their target seats, their message was simultaneously being reinforced by a largely supportive news media. Even the BBC showed signs of a pro-Conservative bias, perhaps encapsulated by Jeremy Paxman indicating that even he felt Labour leader Ed Miliband was not up to the pressures of being prime minister by asking after his one-to-one interview ‘are you alright?’.
Throughout the analysis the consistent picture is of a strong Conservative brand facing a weaker and less strategic Labour brand whose epitaph was a large tablet of stone, developed as a metaphor to indicate their promises wouldn’t be broken but ending up as a metaphorical headstone. The campaign’s role, therefore, was to sharpen the importance of the choice. Cameron’s Conservative party marketed themselves efficiently as the party of economic security and ruthlessly targeted the voters in England most susceptible to their messages. The book demonstrates how this was achieved.