As polling day in the European elections (23 May) gets nearer, I am writing a series of articles about the messages and communications techniques involved. Today I am focusing on that staple of elections – the party manifesto.
Despite the, sometimes lengthy, arguments about phrasing and content, virtually no one actually reads manifestos.
No one, that is, apart from political journalists and lobby groups.
They might not be widely read but these documents are one of the key communication opportunities in an election. Why? Because there is a need for a slogan and message, and you can also show which of your party’s many, many policies are the ones that matter.
You can also show how good you are at anticipating and avoiding problems. Think back to 2017 and you’ll realise the Tories failed this challenge.
The whole “what’s going in the manifesto”? issue can also yield plenty of stories.
Manifesto launches tend to involve a press conference or photo opportunity of some sort, plus a massive mailing to journalists and opinion-formers.
So, what do we know about those manifestos already published?
First up is the Lib Dems.
No one can argue that this isn’t direct. The cover title “Bollocks to Brexit” is unambiguous about where the party stands. There has been some criticism of the language, Lib Dems usually being seen as nice but a bit vague. But here, if there is to be any chance of cut-through, Vince Cable’s team can’t allow any fuzzy language.
Labour’s manifesto is a bit more traditional. The cover, with the line, “Transforming Britain and Europe, for the many not the few” is followed by the traditionally expected foreword by the party leader.
It looks a bit stale compared to some of the productions by its rivals. But given the row about what to put in the document, including a lengthy NEC meeting and speculation about a shadow cabinet strop, maybe unremarkable and workmanlike is what is needed.
There’s been some reluctance from some parties to take part in these elections. After all, they weren’t supposed to happen. The Green Party however makes it clear that it is ready for the fight. “We are full of excitement to be standing in these European Elections” is the very first line in a manifesto titled “Right Now. For the Future”.
The Brexit Party at the time of writing does not have a manifesto. In fact, it’s reported that it has no intention of publishing one before these elections. While not producing this document does mean a loss of the associated media coverage, no one can claim that this party’s aims are not crystal clear.
Less clear are the aims of the Conservative Party, but we are not likely to see a manifesto from Theresa May’s team either.
Members are clearly reluctant to fight these elections and senior officials are saying there will be no manifesto per se. It is hard to think of a message which could be agreed for these elections the party doesn’t want.
At the time of writing, I can’t find a Change UK manifesto. On the one hand this is surprising as, unlike most of the others, they haven’t had to spend time on local election campaigning.
But on the other hand, do they need a lengthy document? After all the messages so far can be conveyed without publishing and new parties like this don’t have a back catalogue of policies to promote.
Paula Keaveney, Senior Lecturer in Public Relations and Politics