Boris Johnson in the Conservative Party Political Broadcast - East Africa Appeal

Conservative Party gives up party political broadcast

This is very impressive.  Here in the UK we do not have paid political advertising: instead political parties are given a limited number of slots on British TV for a ‘party political broadcast’ to put their point across.

This year the UK Conservative party gave up their party political broadcast which usually coincides with the part conference, and used it instead to appeal the British public to give money for the East African famine.

14 comments on “Conservative Party gives up party political broadcast”

  1. I am surprised that you are so unquestioning about this move. Yes, they gave up prime airtime “for charidy”, but there are more subtle motivations and complicated issues at play here.

    First up, presentation and branding are a key part of politics these days. By using their airtime to broadcast a charity appeal, they are trying to bolster their highly questionable “compassionate” re-brand. At a time when more and more people are turned off by traditional adversarial politics, isn’t this softer approach really just a cunning way of creating a positive brand identity?

    Second, as I’m sure you are very well aware, the causes of any famine are more political than climatic – hence those with political power are among the few who can take meaningful steps to resolve the crisis and prevent it from occurring again. Are they doing this? By turning the famine into a charity issue, they are effectively abdicating their own responsibility to do something more effective. By turning a blind eye to governance and human rights issues in Ethiopia, for example, perhaps the UK government is part of the problem? At the very least, surely they would prefer the media and the public to focus on the immediate charity issue rather than the longer term justice/governance problem.

    1. @Mtega – I think you are way too harsh. Credit where it is due.

      Of course you are right that this is part of a political strategy. But the more political parties in the UK which position themselves as pro-development the better, in my view. They should get credit for trying to make this part of their political identity.

      And you are right too that there are deep causes of famine and food insecurity which need more than charity to solve. But let that not be a reason to avoid helping the people we can help today. Charity has its place: I don’t have any hesitation about supporting an appeal for money to support people today in East Africa.

      Owen

  2. Thanks for the response, Owen. And I realise I came across more stridently critical than I had intended. My point was really that I felt you gave the Conservatives more credit than they deserve for their move, and didn’t critique it at all.

    Owen replies: I didn’t critique it because I admire what they have done.

  3. I think it was the most shameful thing I have seen on Television. It was actually presented as a Party Political Broadcast; all those “faces” who spoke were Tory Politicians. If they were so convinced of the need for an appeal broadcast why didn’t they forgo their broadcast entirely in favour of a proper appeal by those who know something about it?

    Owen replies: Thank you for your comment. With respect, I completely disagree. I think it is admirable that these politicians spoke out on this important issue. For politicians of any party to put their weight behind the expert organisations that are tackling this problem seems to me to be unambiguously a good thing.

  4. Admire what they have done! All gone off to work for Oxfam for a few days jollies while the country slides further over the rim of the pan! Lets get the economy under the defribrillator of destiny then we can afford to do something about Africa!

    Owen replies: The giving of aid to the Horn of Africa will not make the slightest difference to whether or not we solve our domestic economic problems. There is no sense in which these are alternatives.

  5. Are we to believe the Conservative Party have not considered that this will improve their polical image. The clue is in the word political; this maukish and cynical use of a humanitarian disaster for political gain. I think this whole exercise is shabby and reflects on the the poor judgement and maybe involvement of DC (although this was his previous trade.)

    Owen replies: I have no more insight than you into why the Conservative Party took this step, but I would be surprised if part of the reason were not the one that you give: that it will help them politically. But it has to be said that the opinion polls (and the comments here) suggest that if there are many other issues they could have championed with greater certainty of popularity. I do not regard it as shabby for a political party to do the right thing to do even if they do it in part because they judge it will be popular.

  6. “I have no problem with praising a political party for doing something which is the right thing to do even if they do it in part because they judge it will be popular.”

    Actually, Owen, I think it will backfire on them, and will become a textbook example of how not to manipulate public opinion. I guess we’re doomed to disagree on this, but I have to say that it requires a surprising degree of naivety to take this broadcast at face value.

  7. It baffles me that people watch this and all they can think to do is disengage themselves through cynicism from the important issue at hand. If the outcome is positive (increased awareness) then it doesn’t matter what the motivation is.

  8. Owen, the problem lies in your definition of the ‘right’ thing. For example, the current conservative party reaction to the Human Rights act; is that the right thing? Is selling arms to many developing countries the right thing? I don’t know. That’s why politicians present different views to the public to get a possible consensus for overall democratic approval; but to dismiss this shabby act because you believe it is right (ie you want this) is far too simplistic. History has many examples where a single political message appeals to a mass audience, to the detriment of an holistic understanding of the party’s view.

    Owen replies: As fundraising appeals go, this one was pretty good. No poverty porn: just a straightforward appeal for money. Much better than many of the appeals by so called ‘expert’ organisations. I agree that this is only part of the story, and it wasn’t a complete lesson in the drivers of food insecurity and inequality. But it seems to me an impossibly high barrier to say that everything you say about aid and development has to include a complete explanation of every development challenge or else it is to the detriment of a holistic understanding.

  9. Hmm. I too am perplexed by such negative reactions. Yes, there is undeniably a bit of positive spin for the Tories. Yes, it’s more complicated than just giving money.

    But can’t we just put scepticism and prejudgement aside (and I suspect Party tribalism – for the record I am not a member of any political party and tend to vote for people not parties. Long story…) and think that maybe, just maybe, they ACTUALLY CARE. That we actually have a Tory Development Minister that genuinely cares about needless starvation and thinks we should do something about it? If we actually care about the issue too, then surely this broadcast can only be a good thing?

  10. Owen, you’ve got it in one. A charity appeal should be clean, simple and focussed on one issue. They always are and should remain so. However, the message from the leading political party running this country without an overall majority on a mission to change this at the next election should not abuse its political slot with a charity appeal for its on end. It is, I repeat, shabby, demeaning and could influence, one way or the other, the amount raised by the charity. Have they considered that ther might be a negative impact to the charity by the majority of donors who are not members of the Conservative Party. That why we shouldn’t confuse politics and charity fund-raising.

  11. As a disabled person, I was appalled by the cynicism of this broadcast. It seemed to me that it had been carefully contrived to deflect attention AWAY from what the Government is doing to its own citizens, for example the disabled in this country (and how many of you actually KNOW what is happening, or do you subscribe to the Daily Mail headlines that we are all ‘workshy scroungers’?). If that were not so, then why waste the first 90 seconds of the broadcast telling us what a waste of time the normal style of PPBs are, instead of diving straight into the appeal?

    And yet, I DO believe that Cameron is sincere in his desire to continue the generous Third World aid that Labour began in earnest. It is one of his personal crusades, and I have no criticism of him for that. However, the government has many opportunities to help the famine areas directly without using a PPB to manipulate us in this way.

    The Tories seem to have pulled off the feat of a cynical and manipulative manoeuvre while simultaneously making me feel guilty of such thoughts.

  12. Something wrong here. this ppb coming during the Conservative conference would normally have supported at least some of the content of the conference.It would have highlighted the main message,it may have even tried to motivate people to pull together and to bear with some of the difficult economic problems that need to be addressed.The PPB might have recognised the difficulties faced by the population such as unemployment,low pension and saving returns,high energy costs and the threat of inflation and perhaps at some stage higher interest charges on thier morgages & other loans.
    No, this PPB was a panic shoe-in perhaps from an original message that was going to ask us all to paydown our debt and increase our savings until it was realised that this would hamper any recovery.
    The only other alternative is that MP’s must think that the redundant,unemployed and hard pressed public can continue to afford to give to charity.

  13. Yeah- the negative responses are simply because people who read aid blogs don’t like conservatives.

    I’m as left-wing as they come, and I’m still impressed. Those saying that this is a squalid vote-grabbing exercise may be right but:
    a) I don’t really care- it’s a good thing to do.
    b) I actually reckon their whole stance on this issue loses them votes- they’re getting killed by the party activists/Daily Mail for foreign aid GOING UP while virtually everything else is getting cut.

    If we build crossparty agreement in favour of more, better aid spending, and thinking about International Development across government not just at DFID- that can only be a good thing. The worst thing for aid will be if it becomes a left vs. right issue- which seems the way it’s going in the States. Owen- you fancy doing a post comparing the political climate for international development in the US and the UK!?

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Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and