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Conservative Party Election Broadcast (2 June 2001)

Courtesy of the Conservative Party

Main image of Conservative Party Election Broadcast (2 June 2001)
Tx. 2/6/2001, 3 mins, colour
SponsorThe Conservative and Unionist Party

Conservative election broadcast focusing on Labour's Special Early Release Scheme and their tax on petrol.

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The 2001 election is most remembered for the moment when John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, punched a voter. Not a lot else happened, even on election day: fewer seats changed hands than in any previous comparable election.

Almost all of Labour's election broadcasts during the campaign consisted of uplifting scenes of a happy land in which the sun always shone and things really had got better in the preceding four years. The Conservatives were not quite so positive. As The British General Election of 2001 noted, their broadcasts were "unremittingly negative. Every image was dark, every sound filled with menace". Their broadcasts were, however, innovative. The party created four short segments - covering crime, the European Union, petrol tax and schools - and these segments, each effectively a 90-second spot ad, were then broadcast in a number of different combinations in different broadcasts. The EU segment was shown in three broadcasts, crime twice.

This particular broadcast features the crime and EU segments. The opening scenes featured shaven-headed criminals being led into a prison, only to walk straight out again, laughing, to go on to commit more crimes, as a result of Labour's early release scheme. This was at least a partial reprise of the famous Willie Horton ad used to great effect in the 1988 US Presidential election by the Republicans against the Democrats' Michael Dukakis, but with one important difference: Horton was black, whereas all the Conservatives' criminals are white, to avoid any allegations that the party was playing the race card. The EU horrors that apparently await Britain included the abolition of the pound (shown in a museum as having existed from 'c1500-2002') and apples sold at two euros per kilo.

It's easy to criticise negative advertising like this, although some US research shows that negative ads tend to be more issue-based than positive advertising, and more likely to be based on evidence, rather than the broad assertions of the sunlit uplands that await which dominate 'positive' ads. They did not, however, do the Conservatives much good. The election saw only a tiny swing of 1.8% to the Conservatives, and they made a net gain of just one seat. At that rate of progress, assuming an election every four years, they were on course to re-enter government somewhere around the year 2657.

Philip Cowley

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Video Clips
Complete broadcast (3:12)
Party Election Broadcasts