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Media Planning and Buying Marketing General Election

Did any of our UK general election campaign predictions hit the bullseye?


By Alastair Duncan, Co-founder

July 8, 2024 | 8 min read

Now the dust has settled, Alastair Duncan, host of Politics for Drummies, talks us through his podcast guest predictions.

Ed Davey firing arrows

/ Ed Davey/X

We had to wait until 7am on Friday morning to see Liz Truss get booted out of her constituency. It was indeed Starmergeddon for the Tories, and the Portillogeddon website was the best place to follow the carnage.

The story of the night was the dreadful reporting. What should have been a focus on the massive swing to Labour was overshadowed by Reform UK, skewed by seeing so many Reform votes in the early declarations.

But, as Nils Leonard said on the Politics for Drummies podcast, outrage isn’t an endpoint. The funniest moment for me was Channel 4 reporting Nigel Farage claiming ‘mainstream media is ignoring us’ and then cutting to the studio with Anne Widdecombe sat in place of Nadine Dorries, who had flounced out after a spat with Alastair Campbell.

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Does media backing help? Of course, it does. GB News has certainly played a part in profile raising for its three presenters who are now the Reform MPs. But the Daily Mail has not backed the winner. Perhaps confirmation bias over Brexit’s success, so important in the last election, has reduced its role a bit to shouting from the side. It can’t change the fact that the economy is in a mess or that the NHS is in trouble.

The FT’s endorsement of Labour’s Starmer and Reeves is significant as it doesn’t actually usually endorse political parties. On the other hand, the only thing I’ve ever admired the Sun newspaper for is pithy headlines. ‘Britain Sees Red’ was punchy but reflects an insipid attempt to back the winner at the last minute. In the attention economy things have moved a long way since the paper claimed ‘It’s The Sun Wot Won It’ for the Tories in 1992. Frankly, The Rest is Politics podcast live events on YouTube have vastly more influence than the Sun.

Make no mistake; the Tories didn’t lose this election because of a headline or because they were too right-wing on some issues or too left-wing on others. They lost because voters of all stripes judged them to be incompetent and dishonest.

Have I mentioned the Politics for Drummies podcast yet? We’ve been tracking campaign strategies and tactics this year, and we’ve been broadly accurate in our predictions.

Back in January, Best for Britain boss Naomi Smith predicted on the podcast that a high proportion of votes in this election would be tactical to get the Tories out. Add a highly effective stunt-filled profile-raising campaign for Ed Davey, and we get 72 seats for the Liberal Democrats, its best-ever result.

Was it the TikTok election really? The channel proved important for experimenting but has faded gracefully into a few good memes. Labour won with the best content as it was one place where they relaxed the rules and were prepared to be playful.

The fact that the early days featured mostly Tories trying to issue take-down notices to Labour’s Lord Farquar from Shrek parody over National Service (‘some of you may die, but it is a risk I’m willing to take’) made it more fun.

We spoke to Sam Jeffers of Who Targets Me. He has become very high profile examining the art and science of ads on Meta and Google. Labor has run over 20,000 executions in the last six weeks, vastly outspent the Conservatives, and effectively trounced them.

We talked about simplicity in the ads with Nicky Bullard. She was right in describing a strategy used in a very effective Labour campaign. Bold type. Simple messaging. Empathetic visuals (‘I’m voting Labour for my children’). The party has stuck to the plan (ironic as that was Sunak’s main line) and been consistent with ‘Change’ and Labour’s six steps. But Labour has also gone on the attack. ‘Who are you going to wake up with ’ juxtaposed with an image of Sunak’s face on a pillow is a little creepy.

Benedict Pringle surmised that Sunak called the election on May 23 because he knew it would get worse and, in a Freudian kind of way, was all over. We were right.

The Conservative campaign has been truly dreadful. The fearmongering seemed to get ever more desperate (‘Don’t surrender your dog to Starmer’s tax demands’) towards the end.

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Only one message (Labour’s £2,000 tax rise) was positive for them. ‘A vote for Reform is a vote for Starmer’ was and ‘Stop the Boats’ only made them look like they couldn’t. And then to have ‘left them on the beaches’ during the D-Day celebration (spoofed so effectively by Ben Golik of Uncommon) was a serious error of judgement.

Rumor has it the Tories’ fundraising efforts collapsed during the campaign, and they had to withdraw several ads due to election betting scandals (‘Don’t bet on Labour’ being the most spectacular own goal). Their party political broadcast was a crime against production values.

Finally, as Amir Khan said, elections are plagued with bots. On X, one post read, ‘I could barely contain myself. Everyone in my local drink place was voting reform UK’. You’d think that they would know it’s called a pub.

Alastair is host of the Politics for Drummies podcast.

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