The traditional election campaign trail will have to be abandoned if politicians are to adapt to the reality of 24-hour news coverage, according to Sky News’s political editor, Adam Boulton.
Speaking at a London School of Economics debate, Boulton said the Prime Minister’s press secretary, Alastair Campbell, had told him the election would prove to be the last in which politicians rushed around the country making speeches.
"The traditional purpose of the whistle-stop tour is now effectively redundant," said Boulton. "The public aren’t bothering to attend their speeches, because they have already heard the same thing a number of times on TV, and it doesn’t make much difference any more what part of the country they are in, because they aren’t really meeting the public."
Boulton said the arrival of 24-hour news channels meant the "era of battling it out on nightly news bulletins was over", even though their viewing figures failed to match the audiences of the terrestrial channels.
Richard Tait, ITN’s editor-in-chief, hit out at the politicians and their spin doctors for trying to assert too much control and for "their obsessive desire to control the outcome of every encounter". He said he had been concerned about voter apathy since the 1997 election, when turnout reached an all-time low of 71 per cent. This year’s turnout was even lower. "If 1997 was a wake-up call, then 2001 is a sign that we’ve all overslept," he said.
But the BBC’s assistant director of news, Mark Damazar, called on broadcasters to consider boycotting some of the parties’ stunts in future, saying he was less optimistic that the politicians would succeed in "reinventing the campaigning wheel".
"We should withdraw if they continue to insist on staging such artificial events, say that we won’t continue to do the pictures, even if it’s only for a couple of days, and see what happens," said Damazar.
Channel 4’s head of news and current affairs, David Lloyd, said the excessively staged-managed campaigns were a turn-off to voters.
"A lot of modern general election politics is the spectacle of the campaign, but this is increasingly disconnected from the way life is outside of that formula in which politics is usually practised," he said.
By Julie Tomlin