This work demonstrates how British political parties now have to use sophisticated political marketing techniques in order to gain electoral success. By conducting focus groups and opinion polls, parties attempt to find out what it is that voters want from them – they then change their behaviour and political stance in order to reflect their findings. The summer of 2000 provided classic examples of this type of behaviour in action, with William Hague and Tony Blair sending out conflicting and confusing soundbites in an attempt to capture the popular imagination on issues such as pensions, asylum seekers and the pound. Parties now attempt to offer a complete product – including their leader, membership rights and policy – that will appeal to a majority of voters, rather than being influenced by a political ideology and firm belief system. In 1983 Labour were the classic example of a party that was led by ideology and tried to persuade voters that their way was the right way, whereas new Labour in 1997 is the classic market-oriented party. Political parties today focus on the needs and wants of voters in much the same way that businesses seek to serve their consumers in order to make profits. The title goes on to discuss what this means for democracy – are parties more responsive, voters more critical and is there a greater focus on policy and delivery – is British democracy thriving, or is the fact that there is no longer any ideological standpoint behind the messages of the major parties an affront to the democratic process?

Review comments:

  • ‘the author’s clear analysis of New Labour strategy [is]….a genuine contribution to the debate about… convergence of consumer and citizen’ (Parliamentary Affairs, 55/2)
  • ‘dispels the myth that political marketing is merely designer politics. Given the dearth of empirically informed political marketing research…offers a significant contribution to… political marketing’  (Political Studies 50/4)
  • ‘timely and topical reassessment…valuable contribution to the political marketing debate…the arguments put over with clarity and conviction’  (Journal of Political Marketing 3/1)

Political Marketing and British Political Parties: The Party’s Just Begun was published by Manchester University Press in June 2001. See http://www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/catalogue/book.asp?id=1486 and http://www.amazon.co.uk/Political-Marketing-British-Parties-Analyses/dp/0719060176
and http://www.politicos.co.uk/books/24231/Jennifer-Lees-Marshment/Political-Marketing-and-British-Political-Parties

Contents

 
1. Political parties and political marketing: what is it all about?
2. Thatcher the marketing pioneer
3. The death of political conviction: how voters rejected product-oriented parties
4. The limits of sales-oriented marketing: why Labour did not win in 1987 and 1992
5. Blair and the New Labour design: a classic market-oriented party?
6. The Party’s just begun