Which NI parties are winners with their election broadcasts?
Party Election Broadcasts (PEB) were first televised on the BBC in 1951. Initially considered a duty by the public service broadcaster, they have remained a feature of political life ever since. Now made independently of the BBC, they can be expensive, big budget productions with party machines taking control of the whole process. While some production styles resonate with the public others have fallen flat. As voters prepare to go to the polls this Thursday for the local government elections, Allison Morris casts a critical eye on the party main offerings and gives her verdict on the 2019 election broadcasts.
DUP - The first five seconds of this snazzy looking PEB shows Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds walking up to the door of 10 Downing Street like they are visiting a relative for afternoon tea. It has been said that the DUP's centre of gravity has switched to Westminster and that is demonstrated in the broadcast, which emphasises their position of influence in London. 'Delivery' is the buzz word, along with urging unionist unity to fall in behind the party. Money from the 'confidence and supply' deal with the Tory government gets a mention and we are a minute in before the first local government candidate speaks. The council candidates run through a list of priorities filmed in various locations. Craigavon councillor Margaret Tinsley is filmed in her plush and beautifully appointed home talking about city deals. Play parks, the arts, the armed forces and even dog fouling gets a mention, and while there is talk of a push for a border poll the party do not refer to Sinn Féin by name, instead the spectre of the party lingers like Lord Voldermort - who must not be named.
Verdict: A big budget production, well planned out and covering local issues. 8/10.
Alliance - The party of the middle ground are keen to emphasis that their candidates are 'ordinary' people who are a part of the community. It starts like a Nike advert with feet pounding along on a Saturday morning park run. Alliance Party leader Naomi Long provides the voice over, but does not feature in the broadcast, instead leaving it up to the council candidates to do the talking. 'People just like you' we have Michael the dentist, Tim the farmer, David the construction worker, Danny the nurse, Yvonne the poet, Andy the outdoor pursuits instructor. It isn't until the end we find out all these people are 'Alliance People'. It's a positive PEB with buzz phrases such as 'better delivery' and 'demanding better'. Alliance voters must love a park run because there are lots of shots of running feet. Again this looks like a no-expenses-spared production, aimed at the middle ground and the middle classes, maybe Alliance have accepted that is where their voter base lies.
Verdict - Well pitched with a clever concept. The council candidates were the stars of the show, but oh so middle-class. 8/10.
Sinn Féin - The republican party have a huge electoral machine and financially some of the deepest pockets of all the local parties. They know their voter base well and usually know exactly how to sell their message. However, this PEB left me scratching my head, mainly because it has little if anything to do with the local council elections. The same broadcast could be used in an assembly, Westminster or European campaign because it sends a more general message not touching on the issues specific of local government. Party leaders Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill do all the talking and it focuses on issues such as an Irish Language Act, LGBT rights and Brexit - none of which are in the gift of local councils. The first glimpse of a council candidate is when Patrice Hardy and John Finucane are seen walking with the two party leaders and bizarrely John O'Dowd and Pearse Doherty outside Queen's University. Maybe this was to emphasise the all-Ireland aspect of the party, but without context it made little sense. Why were they there? Why Queen's? Where was the current mayor of Belfast Deirdre Hargey? Neither Finucane nor Hardy uttered a single word. Two professional, intelligent and capable candidates and yet they were used like backing dancers.
Verdict - Beautifully filmed with a high production value but with little relevance to the local council elections 6/10.
Ulster Unionist Party - This appears to have been made under the stairs with an iPhone. The theme, if there was a theme, is that people are fed-up with politics not delivering; that we're election weary.
And that's the vibe the candidates gave off. Julie Flaherty kicks things off with a long, solemn speech about how awful politics is. "I get it, you're sick listening to it", and she's right, I was. Richard Smart looks much cheerier but he was "frustrated". Leah Smyth looks like the kind of person who would be great craic on a night out. But my attention had started to drift at this stage. The party candidates were from all age and class demographics, but this was a PEB made on a tiny budget, that, while honest in message, fails to live up to the razzamatazz of the other parties. The UUP leader Robin Swann makes an appearance at the very end but I'd dozed off by that stage.
Verdict - Allowed the council candidates to take the lead but really low budget. 5/10.
SDLP - It starts with party leader Colum Eastwood giving a long speech on a bridge in Derry, which is handy because he's recently announced he's standing in the European elections and the publicity can't hurt. Who doesn't love a two for one deal. Again there is a lot of air-time given to assembly members before we get to hear from the council hopefuls. Cara Hunter is clearly an impressive young woman who, I'll be honest, I'd no idea existed until now. If the SDLP really wants to shake off their out of touch image they'd do well to give more air time to their younger members. There's a good mix of rural and city issues. Pete Byrne talking about his same-sex marriage adds a nice personal touch that will resonate with younger voters who previously might have viewed the SDLP as a bit 'churchy' on social issues. There is a definite decision to keep this young and fresh with no mention of the recent Fianna Fáil partnership, indicating that the party is still unsure as to how this will be viewed by nationalist voters in the north.
Verdict - Big budget but avoids the Fianna Fáil 'elephant in the room'. 7/10