Guest Blog: The infamous “wedge” in British politics

8 December 2014, Blog

A crucial weapon in the armoury of any political party is the infamous “wedge”. This technique sees parties propagating issues which trap opponents between public opinion and their own supporters or ideology.

ComRes research for JBP suggests there is yet plenty of scope to mobilise wedge issues ahead of next May’s election.

The current mix of individualism and anti-Westminster sentiment around the country has led the Conservatives to feel that they can catch Labour on ideology. The majority of Britons (57%) agree that “government is too involved in people’s everyday lives”. While three quarters of Conservative MPs and PPCs also agree with this, just one in seven (14%) from Labour do.

Furthermore, 60% of Britons agree “it is not the job of the government to tell people what is good and bad for them” – compared to only 19% of Labour MPs and PPCs. This sees the party at odds with public sentiment on combatting unhealthy lifestyles.

It has also underpinned George Osborne’s messaging that fiscal cuts are required not just to reduce the size of the deficit but also the size of the state itself. Labour either have to cede ideological territory to the Conservatives or find themselves on unpopular ground. Explaining that you support cutting the deficit but not the size of the state also becomes a convoluted technicality which even hardened communications professionals would struggle messaging.

However, overwhelming Conservative opposition to new wind farms (90% of MPs and Prospective Parliamentary Candidates) sits in contrast to broad public support for them being developed in their local area (62%). If Labour could find a sustained way of promoting renewable energy in their air war leading up to the election, they could well find a way of pinning back the Conservatives too.

Of course “framing the debate” is easier said than done, especially with few big ticket opportunities remaining. Televised debates led to ‘Cleggmania’ in 2010, but appeared to have little impact on Election Day. Newspaper endorsements can provide a shot of confidence but readership is declining and papers tend to follow their readers rather than lead them anyway. 2015 is sometimes predicted to be the first “digital election”, but the same was said of the last one and is unlikely this time given the crucial influence of the large “grey vote”.

Instead, to make their pitch effectively on issues of strength, parties will have to repeat their message consistently and coherently across all communications: on the doorstep, on the web, on the box and on the front pages. Whoever can do this best will be well-placed come May 7th.

Written by Adam Ludlow, ComRes Consultant.

JBP Staff Member

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