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Labour Party Election Broadcast (24 March 1992)

Courtesy of the Labour Party

Main image of Labour Party Election Broadcast (24 March 1992)
Tx. 24/3/1992, 5 mins, colour
SponsorThe Labour Party

With: Neil Kinnock

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Labour leader Neil Kinnock outlines Labour's plans for the NHS, and criticises what he calls the "two-tier" health system created by the Conservatives.

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Labour entered the 1992 campaign with a slight poll lead, but John Major's Conservative government still enjoyed a decisive advantage with the public over tax and economic competence. Labour strategists therefore determined to do their best to maximise Labour's advantages elsewhere, notably on health.

Labour's second Party Election Broadcast played on fears that the Conservatives planned to 'privatise' the National Health Service. It dramatised the experience of two girls with the same condition, one lucky enough to access private health, the other unfortunate enough to rely on the Conservative-run NHS. Philip Gould, ultimately responsible for the content of this PEB, claimed in his memoirs that it was "one of the most effective and successful election broadcasts ever shown" and gave Labour a boost in the opinion polls.

The use of drama in this highly emotive way was something of an innovation for a PEB - although the party still ended it with a conventional to-camera statement from Neil Kinnock, just in case viewers had missed its point. This PEB will, however, be more famous for its aftermath, the 'war of Jennifer's Ear'.

The PEB had been inspired by a letter sent to Robin Cook, Labour's Health spokesperson, from a father whose daughter had suffered severe delays in the treatment of an ear problem. Initially Gould wanted to emphasise the real-life element, but at the last minute decided merely present it as a dramatised reconstruction of thousands of similar problems. However party spokespeople had not been properly briefed - Cook hadn't even seen the PEB before broadcast. As a result, some assumed it was still acceptable to say that it was based on a real case and journalists were given leads about the identity of the girl 'Jennifer'. Unfortunately for Labour, some of Jennifer's family were Conservatives and resented how her illness was being used. The Conservatives and their friends in the media accused Labour of lying and exploiting others' misery. It turned out, however, that the Conservatives had helped journalists invade the family's privacy. For a time, the campaigns of both parties came to a shuddering halt as they tried to deal with a media feeding frenzy.

All this muddied the waters for about a week on an issue that was supposed to be Labour's strongest card. The debate the party had hoped to provoke was about health: instead the PEB had become the issue - the medium had become the message.

Steven Fielding

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Video Clips
Complete broadcast (4:59)
Party Election Broadcasts