General Election 2017: A foregone conclusion or can marketing create an upset?

As MPs vote in favour of a General Election for 8 June, political experts weigh up whether clever marketing can prevent the formality of another Conservative victory.

It’s official, Britain will go to the polls this June to decide whether or not it wants Theresa May to remain as its prime minister.

The early signs suggest an overwhelming yes. In fact, the first voter indication poll from YouGov has the Conservative government extending its lead by four percentage points, with 48% saying they will vote Tory compared to only 24% signalling an intention to vote for Jeremy Corbyn as the next PM.

This 24-point lead represents the highest vote share for the Tories since May 2008 and hints Labour is set to suffer major losses in the House of Commons. Theresa May is also clearly the favoured choice for prime minister, with 54% of Brits calling her the best choice to lead the country. The Labour leader, meanwhile, is backed by just 15% of voters.

However, 31% of voters are still undecided. And one thing political outcomes such as Brexit and the Trump presidency have taught us is that polls don’t always get it right. So what will be the branding priorities for each of the main three UK-wide political parties this coming June? And is there any chance of an upset?

READ MORE: General Election 2015: confronting the trust issue

The Conservatives

According to Ian Twinn, the London chairman of the Conservative Party and former public affairs director at ISBA, the PM will avoid complacency at all costs. Even if Corbyn is perceived poorly among the general public, Twinn says May is acutely aware that Labour’s policies around areas such as the NHS score very well with the British public.

“As London chairman when I look at my 73 constituencies I am not complacent at all as things are tight,” says Twinn. “I don’t think it’s in Theresa’s character to be complacent either. She has a clear brand and clear policies, but she also knows it would be foolish to write off Corbyn altogether as, even if he isn’t a great leader, he has a few great policies.”

Twinn says the negativity of the Brexit referendum campaigns – including scaremongering by the Remain camp’s George Osborne as well as the infamous bus-based promises by Vote Leave – felt like “Dante’s circle of hell”. He believes May would have been taking notes to ensure her party’s message is underpinned by positivity this time around.

“Our core message will be that we are the right choice for getting the best possible deal for a Britain exiting the EU. And the fact the polls show more people would now vote leave than during the vote last year plays massively into our hands,” says a confident Twinn.

“However, the idea is to take things a lot wider than just Brexit alone and to offer a central message of hope – that a Conservative government led by Theresa May can be about the people and not just the privileged few.”

Prime Minister Theresa May already has an ally in President Donald Trump

Cranfield University professor of political marketing Paul Baines believes May will look to Thatcher for inspiration. And in a political climate where Labour is struggling to maintain its core working-class Northern voters, he says she holds the advantage.

Baines adds: “Thatcher won power by converting so many working class voters through council house sales and whatnot. May is clearly influenced by Thatcher as a tactician and I’m convinced she is holding onto a big policy announcement that will be her trump card for working class voters, who are waiting for the Tories to woo them more than UKIP has.”

The Conservative party spent £1.2m during the 2015 General Election on Facebook campaigns, while Labour allocated a paltry £16,000 to the platform as it instead prioritised Twitter to galvanise voters. And YouGov’s head of political research Joe Twyman believes the Tories will prioritise Facebook spend once again over the next seven weeks.

“There will be a big commitment to targeted ads and messaging as the Tories proved in 2015 that Facebook has a broader reach than Twitter for micro-targeting specific messages to relevant regions,” he explains.

“Labour invested a lot of its budget on Twitter under Miliband – which is a great platform for getting people to turn out, but not so great at persuading people to vote differently – and this time around Labour will probably follow the Tories onto Facebook.”

READ MORE: Marketing in the age of Trump

Labour

If Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn became PM it would represent a massive upset

It feels a little like controversial Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been asked to step down ever since he took on the leadership in September 2015. And with a large proportion of Labour MPs already refusing to serve in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, even more have shown distrust for their leader in the wake of May calling for a snap election this week.

MPs such as Iain Wright, Pat Glass, Andy Burnham, Andrew Smith, Gisela Stuart, Fiona Mactaggart, Alan Johnson and Tom Blenkinsop have all either refused to defend their current seats in June or are thought to be contemplating whether to stand down due to their fears of a Labour collapse.

This lack of faith in Corbyn appears to be shared by Labour voters. According to polling firm opinion.life, 16% of Labour supporters intend to vote Conservative this June, with this group convinced the Conservatives are “best placed to lead Britain through the Brexit process”.

Opinion.life co-founder James Turner says the Labour party must focus on the NHS rather than Brexit if it wants to win voters back. He explains:  “The Lib Dems are becoming the default party for Remainers and ‘soft’ Brexiters so a key battle for Corbyn would be to win over the heartland Labour supports who are more concerned with healthcare and NHS.”

Twinn, meanwhile, says Corbyn should avoid making Labour’s General Election campaign focus too much on Brexit, due to the awkward questions it creates around immigration.

With the Tories only strengthening their position in the polls it would be perhaps the biggest political upset of all time if Corbyn somehow won.

Joe Twyman, YouGov

“If Labour wants to fight for the European single market then that means there will be free movement and open door immigration. Immigration was one of the key issues in 2015 and the Conservatives have prospered because we have a popular position – we don’t want to be in the single market as it would disrupt Britain’s borders.

“If Corbyn focuses too much on Labour’s EU stance then it will play right into May’s hands as she will be able to poke holes in both his lack of conviction around Brexit and on immigration.”

Lucky Generals founder Andy Nairn previously worked with former leader Ed Milliband’s Labour on the party’s advertising and he says this time around Labour has plenty of ammunition to attack the Tories. Yet, he’s still not convinced Labour will seize the opportunity and fears many of its MPs can’t wait for the process to end.

“I can’t imagine that anyone within Labour will genuinely harbour hopes of winning.  But its more successful MPs will probably contrast the PM’s inclusive language with her Government’s divisive actions and policies – possibly with some rhetoric against multinational corporations, built in,” he adds.

“There is actually quite a lot of ammunition to play with here, even if the current Corbyn leadership team seems to prefer shooting itself in the foot.  Again though, many in the party will see a likely thrashing as worthwhile if it is followed by immediate change.”

READ MORE: General election 2017: What marketers should consider

Liberal Democrats

Experts believe the Liberal Democrats will win back seats lost in 2015

As well as the Scottish National Party (SNP), which is expected to retain the majority of its 56 seats, the Lib Dems are expected to come out of the General Election 2017 with something to smile about.

Britain’s decision to leave the EU split the country, with 48% of Brits voting for remain. And Nairn has backed Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron to prosper due to the way he is pandering to these voters.

He explains: “The most obvious beneficiaries of May’s decision to call for an election are the Lib Dems. Annihilated last time round, they have the chance to make an immediate rebound, with a focused message (against hard-Brexit) and audience (targeting the heartlands they lost last time round).

“They should pick up disaffected voters from both left and right and even if their gains are relatively modest, they will be able to claim momentum much earlier than they might otherwise have expected.”

The most obvious beneficiaries from a 2017 General Election are the Lib Dems

Andy Nairn, Lucky Generals

But Twinn believes a vote for the Lib Dems is, realistically, a protest vote at best. Their message, he says, doesn’t deal with the harsh realities. “The Lib Dems will win back a lot of seats but it isn’t a winning message, it’s a protest message. It isn’t going to get them back to where they were before, as the majority of Brits now accept we can’t turn back the clock on Brexit.”

The General Election 2017 will be seen through “the prism of Brexit”, according to YouGov’s Twyman. He says the Lib Dems’ message of reversing the decision to leave the EU won’t resonate at a national level but will work well in pro-Remain areas such as Bristol and Bath where the party lost seats in 2015.

Ultimately, though, YouGov’s Twyman – much like everybody else interviewed for this feature – can only see one outcome.

He concludes: “Even if you look at the worst election we called [as pollsters], which was 1992 when we were out by more than 5%, the gap in polling between Labour and the Tories right now is so significant, there isn’t the same margin for error on our side.

“There isn’t the will or time for the SNP, Lib Dems and Labour to form an alliance as each are too tribal. And with the Tories only strengthening their position in the polls it would be perhaps the biggest political upset of all time if Corbyn clawed it back now. It is May’s election to lose right now.”

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