Last weekend I went along to Liverpool’s Playhouse Theatre to see the excellent touring production of David Hare’s play The Absence of War, a fictionalised account of Labour’s doomed 1992 General Election campaign. The timing couldn’t be better as we now enter the final phase of the 2015 Election.
In Hare’s play the politicians rely on Ceefax (remember that?) for up to the minute news and the mobile phones which a few of them have are the size of bricks. It’s too easy to forget just how different the media landscape was in the early 1990s. Back then there was no social media, nobody did email or text messaging and multi channel TV had yet to catch on.
People actually bought newspapers in those days. It’s worth remembering that The Sun claimed the credit for John Major’s 1992 victory with the triumphal headline It’s The Sun Wot Won It. It seems unlikely that any newspaper will have that much influence this time round.
Of course it isn’t just the media that has changed in the past two decades, so too has UK politics. Gone are the days when it was a straight choice between Conservative and Labour, the rise in popularity of other parties means that we almost have as many political parties as we have media channels. For example, look at the fuss over who gets to appear in what TV election debates.
Between now and 7 May I will be very interested to see how the various parties use the many media outlets available to them. During last year’s Scottish Referendum campaign the Scottish National Party won a lot of praise for their imaginative use of Twitter and Facebook to communicate with younger voters. Their social media work might go some way to explaining how the SNP have surged ahead in the polls in Scotland, despite losing the independence referendum.
George Jones the fictional Labour leader in David Hare’s play, is clearly based on Neil Kinnock, who was renowned for his long and rambling speeches which seemed to last interminably. If Kinnock were Leader today, I wonder how he would cope with the 140 character limit for Twitter?