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Election 2024

Public Affairs
general election 2024
The main parties will shape their media narratives through tightly controlled campaigns - especially after Sunak's Downing Street washout

It is ironic that the song drowning out a PM who risked his own drowning if he stayed out in the rain any longer was Things Can Only Get Better.

Not because it was Labour’s 1997 anthem but because the sorry sight of this country’s most powerful politician soaked through could be a wakeup call for ensuring the remainder of the campaign is a bit better choreographed.

Communications during an election is always important because for many voters it is the only time they truly engage in politics. They watch TV news each night to see what the two main candidates for PM have to say and follow the agenda more closely than ever, even preferring traditional media over the social kind.

And because of that, we can expect to see the most tightly controlled messaging ever seen in an election.

To look back at the 1992 election, it looks quaint to see John Major campaigning on an upturned box, microphone in hand, arguing his case to anyone who would listen.

At the time, it was seen as humble, direct and honest. Some even thought the down to earth approach helped him win the election - regardless of what The Sun newspaper's famous front page might have you believe.

But the idea of Rishi Sunak or Keir Starmer taking anything close to a similar approach is highly unlikely. Not least because, unlike Major, neither spent their teenage years growing up on a council estate in Brixton.

Instead, we can expect highly orchestrated performances, carefully selected audiences and strategically placed banners to avoid any pictures that could quickly go viral and cause embarrassment.

The media is likely to be highly constrained by the parties too - shown in brutal real-time by security guards marching out Sky News's Darren McCaffrey from Sunak's indoors campaign event on Wednesday evening. McCaffrey's live reporting to camera as he's pushed out the door is worth a look.

It follows a pattern of behaviour by political parties stretching back to Boris Johnson's time as PM, aided by Dominic Cummings' loathing of the media, and included Johnson's famous decision to hide in a walk-in fridge rather than face questions from ITV's Good Morning Britain on an early walkabout at a dairy facility.

More recently, there has been a noticeable shift in the way only certain members of the press have been allowed to attend events and whilst in the past there has been a solidarity between media outlets, this has weakened with the promise of exclusive access - too much of an opportunity to pass up.

Expect limited numbers allowed inside the room and, as seen at the Conservative's event at ExCel on Wednesday, no questions allowed. If questions can be raised, expect to see them peppered with ones from "the public", as was seen during the Covid-19 daily briefings.

In some ways it may benefit Sunak that arguably his worst gaffs have happened at the beginning of the campaign, unlike Gordon Brown's infamous "bigot" comments caught on a microphone he forgot he was wearing towards the end of the 2010 campaign.

The soaked through suit will dry out and, he will hope, evaporate from the memories of voters.

But it will also be a wakeup call to the PM and his advisors that everything and anything could go wrong. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best because things can only get better.