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    23 May, 2005

    A devolved election campaign?

    A final note on the General Election campaign.

    One of the problems of the General Election campaign from a Welsh point of view was the lack of understanding centrally of what a General Election means in a devolved context. For example, on the day of the launch of the Scottish and Welsh manifesto, the UK message was about education – in other words, education in England. This meant that the UK TV bulletins were leading on an agenda that was not that relevant to Wales and Scotland, so our voters saw messages about English education on the main BBC and ITV news bulletins. This is a particular problem in Wales of course, as our voters largely read papers produced in London, whereas Scottish voters read papers produced in Scotland. It would have been better if the UK message that day had been about pensions or another UK issue.

    Our campaign was designed to focus mainly on Welsh TV and radio, where we could add value to the UK campaign, through the regional news bulletins. One problem, as in the devolution referendum, is that the issue of balance works against the organisation with the most going on. We often had two or three picture stories on the same day - not all of which were controllable by us - but we would still get the same amount of coverage as the other parties. This made the coverage somewhat stilted.

    Amongst the papers, we focused on the evenings and weeklies, especially those in the 12 or so battleground seats. This worked better in some areas than others. The South Wales Echo, for example, carried a lot of our material, and gave us fairer coverage than we would normally expect to get.

    The Western Mail tried hard to get its own election campaign going, expecting the parties to fall in with its agenda. They were not our priority, given the low level of the paper's general readership in Wales. Other parties, ntably Plaid, seemed to devote more attention to them. The paper made constant demands for us to publish more detail on our waiting list pledge, yet they refused to publish the detail we had already released, so we made it available on our website.

    In Wales, we deliberately launched the devolution section of the manifesto early, giving stories to the Daily Post and an article to the Western Mail, along with an interview to BBC Wales. We did not want the Welsh manifesto launch to be overshadowed by the constitutional issue, when our core messages were on the strength of the Welsh economy. Our subsequent manifesto launch, with Mike Ruddock joining us, worked exceptionally well: after a series of second-rate rugby related stunts by the other parties, we had the real thing – a rugby hero to reinforce the ‘world-beating Wales’ message. We maintained the focus on the message that a vote for Plaid or the Liberals could let the Tories in by the back door.

    Organisationally, there were daily phone calls involving Scottish and Welsh party representatives at which the UK campaign message and likely plans for the day and for the next day were cascaded by (initially) John Reid (and later) others. However, often the next day’s plans were not finally settled – so much for the infamous grid.

    Early on during one of these calls Rhodri Morgan came up with the phrase ‘Are you remembering what we’re remembering’ as a counter to the Tories ‘Are you thinking what we’re thinking’. By that evening, the Prime Minister was using it.

    Rhondda TV
    The Labour Party

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    Promoted by Leighton Andrews AM, National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff CF99 1NA.

    Author's editorial policy: This blog does not publish anonymous comments, unless they are really witty and I like them. If you have something to say, then have the courage of your convictions and use your name or an identifiable alias. Even then I reserve the right not to publish comments that are malicious, defamatory, stupid, pointlessly cynical or boring. Any of the statements or comments made above should be regarded as personal and not necessarily those of the National Assembly for Wales, any constituent part or connected body.