Music in the Party Election TV Broadcasts of 1997

Mini-Dissertation in Music and the Moving Image II (MUSI 224), 2000.

By Alison Beck

[Please note that references in this dissertation are incomplete and that appendices were not provided in digital form for online presentation]


The general election of 1997 marked a dramatic change in British politics. After nearly twenty years in government, the Conservative Party was swept from power by New Labour, which until three short years before had seemed terminally unelectable. Labour romped home to victory with the biggest landslide of a British election for fifty years. In a few short hours on the night of May 1st, the face of British party politics was radically, perhaps permanently, altered.

The election campaign was fought almost entirely through the media. The formal campaign period itself was six weeks long - rather longer than the usual four weeks. However, the so-called ‘near term’ campaign began, as usual, about twelve months before the election; around June 1996, the political parties estimated that the general election was about a year away, and they began to focus their media efforts on this not-so-distant goal.

The media campaign was fought via informal briefings of the Lobby press, ministerial appearances on news and current affairs programmes, poster campaigns, advertisements in newspapers, press conferences (a daily occurrence during the formal campaign), and party election broadcasts (PEBs). Each party’s campaign was fully integrated - the same slogan appeared in newspapers, on billboards and in PEBs. (e.g. the Conservative slogan ‘New Labour, new danger’). The major parties brought in the professionals to help them orchestrate their campaigns - The Conservatives enlisted M + C Saatchi, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats enlisted the help of more shady advertising strategists.

It appears that no proper study of the music of PEBs has been conducted. My quest for information has led me to scores of books and hundreds of websites about election broadcasts, but none gives more than a perfunctory mention of the music. The PEBs of the 1997 near term election campaign are a fascinating example of party political music, which could almost be described as a genre in its own right. At the very least they are a fascinating hotchpotch of film and television music genres, and existing pieces from the pop and classical fields. My dissertation will seek to tackle this problem of knowledge, by providing an informative study of the music of the party election broadcasts of the 1997 election campaign.

I will begin by giving a general description of the broadcasts. Then I will describe and analyse the music of the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and minor party broadcasts, focusing primarily on the Labour party. These analyses will be followed by a detailed semiotic analysis of one broadcast by Labour (14th November 1996). After this I will move on to consider the intended and actual effects of the broadcasts, and to summarise in what way the music contributed towards these effects. Finally, I will consider the future of PEBs, and discuss whether they will have a meaningful role in subsequent British elections.


General description of the PEBs

Before embarking on a general description of the 1997 campaign broadcasts, an important note about definitions must be made. Annually, each of the three major parties is allocated a certain quota of party political broadcasts (PPBs), regardless of any local or national elections that may occur. Moreover, during official election campaigns they are allocated a number of party election broadcasts (PEBs). In the 1997 election, Labour and Conservatives were allotted five PEBs, the Liberal Democrats four, and the minor parties (those that had candidates running in at least 50 constituencies) one each. Several PPBs were broadcast between the start of the near term campaign (June 1996) and the start of the official campaign (mid-March 1997); these broadcasts clearly have the election in mind, and to all intents and purposes are party election broadcasts. Thus, in the interests of brevity, I will henceforth refer to all the broadcasts of the 1997 near term campaign as PEBs.

The 1997 broadcasts were a mixed bag, ranging from low-budget straight to camera pieces to the relatively slick productions of the three main parties. There were thirty four PEBs, more including the regional broadcasts of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party (SNP). At the beginning of the near term, there were month-long gaps between broadcasts; however as the campaign climaxed broadcasts came thick and fast - between April 21st and polling day, there were one or two broadcasts every single day. All the PEBs, which I shall describe below, are contained on the accompanying video. A full list of their broadcast dates is provided in the appendix.

There were ten Labour PEBs, five before the formal campaign and five during it. The Labour Party’s broadcasts were made by a variety of different producers; the most high-profile were acclaimed documentary maker Molly Dineen, and Stephen Frears (who directed the 1985 film ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’). The broadcasts are cohesive but varied: several television drama-like broadcasts based on the slogan ‘enough is enough’; one involving Tory characters from the satirical TV programme ‘Spitting Image’; a positive broadcast featuring business leaders like Anita Roddick; a heavily ironic one based on ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ by Elgar; a fly-on-the-wall documentary of Tony Blair by Molly Dineen; and finally, a miniature feature film directed by Stephen Frears and starring Pete Postlethwaite, which called to mind the films ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (1946) and ‘Michael’ (1996). The most notorious broadcast featured Fitz the British bulldog; it became a media story in its own right, thus generating free publicity for Labour - as they gleefully acknowledge in their internal report.

The Conservative Party broadcasts were created by M+C Saatchi. Most of their nine broadcasts were anti-Labour; they presented a hypothetical future of woe under a Labour government. These broadcasts were an attempt to scare the public out of voting Labour; they used slogans such as ‘New Labour, new danger’, and ‘New Labour, new failure’. A further three Conservative broadcasts consisted of John Major delivering a piece to camera, addressing the nation in a rather statesmanlike manner.

The Liberal Democrats had three main types of broadcast, alternating (roughly) with one another. The two earliest were called the ‘open circle’ broadcasts; they featured Paddy Ashdown listening to a panel of ordinary folk voice their concerns about health and education. The second type of broadcast became known as the ‘Ashdown movie’; the first of these featured various old friends of Paddy extolling his virtues, inter-cut with shots of him jogging purposefully and manfully through the English countryside. The second began with edited highlights of the previous broadcast, followed by a map of Britain turning yellow, and Ashdown addressing the nation. The third type of broadcast could be termed ‘comical’; one featured a ‘Punch and Judy’ show between Labour and Tory, and another showed a game of ‘political football’ between the red and blue teams.

The broadcasts of the minor parties - eight in total - were invariably poorer quality, low-budget productions. The majority consisted largely of men in suits delivering monologues straight to camera. The Referendum Party’s broadcast consisted entirely of millionaire leader Jimmy Goldsmith delivering a monologue from behind a desk, glaring balefully at the camera. The Green Party’s broadcast was relatively professional; it had fairly good graphics, documentary-type scenes of environmental destruction, party activists at work, etc, interspersed with straight-to-camera addresses from party leaders. The Natural Law Party’s broadcast had the predictable man-in-suit-sitting-at-desk, aided by very basic graphic diagrams; the broadcasts of the UK Independence party, Liberal party, and Socialist Labour were very similar.

The Pro-Life Alliance broadcast generated much controversy. The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 refused to show it in its original version, deeming its graphic images of aborted foetuses an ‘offence to public decency’. Eventually the PEB was shown with the offending sequence heavily blurred. The broadcast was slickly produced, beginning with a narrator declaring that ‘...this is the film they don’t want you to see’. It started with pleasant images of a developing foetus in the womb, and culminated with blurred footage of abortion procedures and the caption ‘some choices are wrong’.

Further controversy raged over the British National Party (BNP) broadcast. Many felt that they should not have been allocated a broadcast at all, and several television channels demanded edited versions. The broadcast itself consisted of addresses by party leaders, with the White Cliffs of Dover and Houses of Parliament as backdrops. There was an eclectic mix of documentary-type scenes: black people walking down high street, a school with signs in Urdu, Henry VIII, 2nd World War heroes, and run-down factories. The BNP’s racist agenda was delivered relatively subtly (e.g. ‘help the immigrants return home’).

I also obtained a copy of a Plaid Cymru PEB, broadcast in Wales on 27th April; no doubt they were allotted more than one broadcast (as were the Scottish National Party), but I have been unable to obtain copies of these broadcasts. The broadcast itself was clear and snappy. It began with scenes of the Welsh countryside, towns and cities. The core of the broadcast was a policy outline; short sentences outlining their various policies were separated by shots of their manifesto hitting a table with a thump. This was followed by party leader Dafydd Wigley addressing the nation. The broadcast ended with a moving shot of the Welsh flag fluttering triumphantly in the wind.

Music of the PEBs - general description

Of those broadcasts that contained music, it can be divided into two categories - pre-existing music, and music composed especially for the broadcast. The pre-existing music that was used came from popular music and classical music sources. The Labour party, for instance, used the popular 1994 dance anthem Things Can Only Get Better by D:Ream as a sort of slogan, playing an extract from an instrumental version of it at the end of every single PEB. The Liberal Democrats placed more emphasis on classical music; two of their broadcasts end with a brief burst of pre-existing music that is probably Beethoven, and their final broadcast incorporated a lengthy extract from ‘Nimrod’, The Enigma Variations by Elgar. The music of Plaid Cymru’s broadcast was taken entirely from Verdi’s ‘Aida’.

The original music of the 1997 election broadcasts shared one common feature - it was all low-budget, fairly amateur and produced on a synthesiser. All the three main parties, and some of the minor parties, used specially composed music in some broadcasts. The quality of this music is surprisingly good, given that it all seems to be performed on a synthesiser and must have been quite a low-budget effort. Some of the Labour and Conservative broadcasts contain music that is complex, multi-layered and cleverly done. For instance, the Labour broadcast of November 14th 1996 (analysed in detail later) has a constant stream of music based on elements of the horror music genre; a low sustained ‘drone’, pizzicato strings, a glockenspiel that sounds like an out-of-tune music box, and a child’s voice singing a lullaby.

Description of music - Labour party PEBs

The Labour party’s broadcasts, ten in all, contain a wide variety of interesting and cleverly used music, both pre-existing and original in nature. Every single broadcast contains music that is intended, in one way or another, to make or emphasise a political point. This is in contrast to the Conservative party’s broadcasts, several of which contain no music at all.

The first Labour party PEB, broadcast on 4th June 1996, is a straightforward and relatively low-key affair; the voiceover and images are accompanied at sporadic intervals by upbeat music that may be a pre-existing dance track. The beat is fast and steady, and the synthesised chords consist of 4ths, 5ths and minor 7ths; this lends the music a purposeful feel, which echoes Tony Blair’s promises (‘We will...’). In the closing moments of the broadcast, we are exhorted to ‘call Tony Blair’. At this point the drum beat stops and a sustained chord is heard, based on 4ths, 5ths and minor 7ths; it sounds soothing and reassuring. At the very end, there is a brief shot of a mound of soil, which is then blown away to reveal the Labour emblem (a symbolic reference to a ‘breath of fresh air’ blowing away the ‘dirt’ built up by two decades of Tory rule). The brief visual sequence is accompanied by the four opening bars of the chorus of Things Can Only Get Better by D:Ream, with the vocal line played on a fresh-sounding piano. This visual and musical ‘slogan’ is attached to the end of every subsequent Labour PEB, lending coherence to their campaign.

The second broadcast, of October 10th, struck an entirely different note. It was a comedy sketch featuring puppets from ‘Spitting Image’; John Major is attempting to write a speech, while all around him bombs are falling and artillery is rattling. In fact the audio onslaught is so unrelenting that background music would struggle to be heard; it was probably deemed unnecessary. At the end of the broadcast we see Humphrey the Downing Street cat heading for Tony Blair’s welcoming front door. As the door opens and Blair appears, all smiles, the instrumental re-working of Things Can Only Get Better is heard.

The Labour PEB of 14th November is the first of several based on the slogan ‘enough is enough’. This broadcast will be analysed in depth later; at this point in the dissertation a brief description of the music will suffice. The broadcast strongly resembles classic horror movies in its story-line and music. A series of vignettes - a young couple wheeling a pram across a desolate landscape, an old woman left cold when her gas lamps splutter and die - are accompanied by a low sinister ‘drone’, pizzicato strings, eerie cymbal effects, a sinister glockenspiel theme, and a child’s voice singing a lullaby-like tune. The broadcast is packed with music from start to finish, which seems expressly designed to strike terror into the heart of the viewer (like the broadcast as a whole).

Labour’s next broadcast, on 16th January, is again based on the theme ‘enough is enough’, but with much less music. It is a day-in-the-life account of a typical nuclear family, voicing their concerns about their child’s education, rising taxes, the NHS, and crime. During the short scenes (such as the mother in her local supermarket), there is no background music. However, the scenes are separated by blank screens bearing captions, such as ‘next time... VAT on food’. Each caption is accompanied by a low, menacing synthesised ‘drone’, intended to increase the viewers’ feelings of fear at the prospect of a Conservative victory.

The broadcast of March 13th is very similar in style to the scary ‘enough is enough’ broadcast of 14th November. The music goes along similar lines, too, and was probably composed by the same person (although I have been unable to obtain details of who wrote the Labour party’s music). Again, we see a series of vignettes from every day life, this time interspersed with an image of John Major with two faces. Each of these images is accompanied by a low, sustained ‘drone’, meant to portray John Major as a dark, threatening and untrustworthy figure. The vignettes are all accompanied by music inspired by classic horror films, similar to the November 14th broadcast analysed in detail later.

As the last image of a two-faced John Major disappears, there is a sucking cymbal sound, and it cuts to Gordon Brown. The music stops abruptly. As Brown smilingly outlines Labour’s policies, the absence of music contrasts greatly with the almost constant ‘drone’ and sinister musical effects of the majority of the broadcast. This helps to create a warm, safe, ‘everything’s OK’ feeling.

The broadcast of April 10th - given the title ‘Business endorsements’ by Labour - struck a positive note, a welcome relief after four heavily anti-Tory broadcasts in a row. It begins with a montage of images meant to symbolise business and the City; skyscrapers, a crowd of fast walking people shot from the waist down, and Blair and Brown chatting to workers. The quick cutting and angled shots create a positive, purposeful feel. This is aided by the music: the opening bars of ‘Stars’ by Simply Red (a song made very popular by the hit 1995 film ‘Jack and Sarah’). The guitars and prominent snare drum sound up-beat, fresh and modern. The broadcast continues with interviews with various top business figures; there is no more music.

The broadcast of April 15th was entitled ‘British spirit’, and received much media comment, as Labour were playing the patriotic card - traditionally the preserve of the Tories. It featured Fitz the bulldog, who symbolises Britain striving to break free from its Tory master. The opening shot of Fitz is accompanied by a repeated string motif, consisting of two repeated notes a fifth apart; the music’s speed lends a sense of action and purpose. As Fitz lies down and goes to sleep, the music thins, rallentandos and then stops; Fitz’s sense of purpose has gone. The broadcast then changes to quick-cut shots of Blair at work; at this point a new string melody is heard, syncopated and fast. A series of brief cuts to Fitz follow, each one showing him more awake, as he is stirred up by Tony Blair’s passion and energy. Each shot of Fitz is accompanied by the earlier repeated motif, becoming more and more insistent each time. As the broadcast nears its climax, we see scenes of Tony Blair ‘the statesman’ greeting people, at which point the fast string melody begins again. It continues as Fitz breaks free from his master and trots off over the golden horizon. The fast string music reflects the up-beat, positive image Labour are trying to project. It is also interesting to note that Labour’s string music sounds edgy and 20th century, in contrast to the Liberal Democrats’s choice of classical music (discussed below) which is distinctly 18th century in style.

Labour’s next broadcast, on 21st April, was entitled ‘Hope and Glory’, and contains the most heavily ironic use of music found in any of the broadcasts. The entire broadcast is based around ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ by Elgar, a traditional staple at Conservative party conferences and an unofficial national anthem. As the lengthy, fast and triumphant introduction is heard, we see speeded up images of Tory party conference; the smiling leaders and cheering party faithful look comical. The scene abruptly changes to a gloomy hospital corridor, as the slow and stately main theme begins (played by violins). We see scenes of ill patients, a misery-stricken nursing home, and even CCTV footage of a mugging. All the while ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ mockingly continues, making a clear ironic statement that this Land is anything but hopeful and glorious.

Towards the end of the broadcast the fast introductory music strikes up again, and we are back at Tory party conference. The introduction is followed by the main theme, this time sung by a choir (although we are meant to think it is sung by those on screen). The party faithful wave their flags and sing along, smiling broadly. As the music continues, we see more scenes of hospitals, criminals etc. Finally, it cuts to a shot of the outside of the conference centre; the camera pans back to reveal a sandcastle on the beach, with a little Union Jack sticking up. As the finals chords of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ sound, the sandcastle is simultaneously hit by waves (an example of a kinetic anaphone), and the flag, symbolising the nation, is washed away. All in all, a highly effective use of musical irony.

Labour’s broadcast of 24th April, entitled ‘Tony Blair’, was produced by acclaimed documentary maker Molly Dineen. ‘The aim was chiefly to convey an impression of Tony Blair as Mr Nice Guy’ (Butler, 1997:153). Ten minutes in length, it is very different in style from their other nine PEBs. The documentary style of the broadcast means that it contains virtually no incidental music, as this would have detracted from the authentic ‘real life’ feel. Near the end of the broadcast, the slow opening lines of ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ accompany scenes of Blair giving a passionate speech, getting purposefully off a plane, etc. The music sounds stirring and rousing, romanticising the positive images on screen.

Labour’s final PEB was broadcast on 28th of April, three days before polling day. It was directed by Stephen Frears and was entitled ‘Get Out the Vote’. The feature film style of the broadcast is reflected by the music, which sounds very much like the film music of John Williams. Comparisons can also be drawn to the music of Christmas films such as Santa Claus: the Movie (1985) and Miracle on 34th Street (1994). The opening moments, when father and daughter emerge from Casualty and struggle through the rain to a taxi, are accompanied by a slow, wistful bassoon melody. After the taxi driver says ‘...Becky’ there is a tinkly bell sound, and a hint of magical-sounding tremolo strings. This is followed by a solo horn melody, which traditionally in films signifies heroism - in this case the hero status of the taxi driver (who reveals himself as Pete Postlethwaite). The broadcast moves into a ‘dream sequence’ as the taxi driver hypothesises about the state of the country under another five years of Tory rule. During this part, synthesised flute sounds play a steady ostinato figure which sounds more and more ominous, emphasising the nightmarish images on-screen.

As the taxi draws to a halt, the music quietens, and there is a tinkling celeste as we glimpse the taxi driver’s angel wings. At the words ‘That’s why you have to vote!’, father and daughter look around and realise time has wound back. The magical moment is emphasised by a high choir. As Becky and her dad enter the polling station (presumably to vote Labour) the melody from the very beginning is played, this time by a triumphant solo horn. The aim of this broadcast was to encourage people to go out and vote; this aim is subtly emphasised by the warm ‘heroic’ horn as dad votes.

In summary, the music of the Labour party broadcasts is coherent, unpretentious and highly effective. The choice of pre-existing music - D:Ream, Simply Red - struck a contemporary, culturally relevant note, reinforcing their image as the fresh new party. The use of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, a piece instantly recognisable to almost all, is a masterful exercise in musical irony. The original music of the PEBs seems to have been composed by the same person (unfortunately, my enquiries to the Labour Party communications manager were unable to ascertain who this person was). Because the majority of Labour broadcasts were heavily anti-Conservative, the main musical feature is the low, ominous-sounding ‘drone’, meant to scare viewers into voting Labour at the prospect of ‘five more years’. As well as the menacing ‘drone’, the composer drew on classic horror music for many of his musical effects. A prime example of this is the November 14th PEB, which is analysed in detail later.

Description of music - Conservative party PEBs

The Conservative party broadcasts, nine in all, contain nowhere near as much music. Of the eight broadcasts I have on video (one is unfortunately missing), four contain no music at all. Of these, three are piece to camera broadcasts featuring Prime Minister John Major addressing the nation. The music of the other four broadcasts is quite similar in style, and seems to use the same synthesised string sounds.

The first PEB, of June 11th 1996, gained infamy as the most over-the-top broadcast of the campaign. Its slogan, ‘New Labour, new danger’, is repeated over and over again, between hypothetical scenes of woe under a future Labour government. The music is so over-dramatic and exaggerated that it deserves a detailed description. The broadcast begins with the only use of pre-existing music in any Tory broadcast – Something Coming Through the Air Tonight by Phil Collins. This accompanies a narrator describing what great shape the economy is in, and shots of a bustling high street. The up-beat tempo and minor key help to create a serious-yet-optimistic mood.

The music changes abruptly as a pair of menacing, red eyes materialise in the cash point machine. These red eyes appear several times throughout the broadcast; each time they are accompanied by a sharp screeching sound and sinister-sounding tremolo strings. Whenever the ‘New Labour, new danger’ caption appears, there is a low sustained ‘drone’ (mirrored a minor 7th above), accompanied by various musical effects, including dissonant piano chords, low piano notes, or a high tinkling metal sound. The call of a distant bird of prey increases the mood of danger. Throughout the broadcast the music is in a similar vein: there is a sinister ‘drone’ and a recurring drum-beat that resembles a thudding heart (a sonic anaphone). The over the top music of this broadcast is based on clichés of the horror music genre (discussed in the detailed analysis below); its clear intent is to terrify the viewer into voting Tory, thus reflecting the overall mood of the broadcast.

The Conservatives’ next broadcast, on January 21st 1997, contains almost no music. It consists of a woman sinking deeper into despair as she listens to hypothetical news broadcasts from a Labour future. As the broadcast reaches its climax, the ubiquitous synthesised ‘drone’ enters, followed by stabbing string chords and a rippling piano. As John Prescott resigns, we hear Big Ben strike, and the music stops. Then a red tear rolls slowly down the woman’s cheek; strings play a mournful minor chord (with an added major 2nd). This sombre music effectively enhances the feeling of misery.

The Tories’ next PEB, broadcast on February 13th, consists entirely of a lion, symbolising Britain. At first the lion stands proudly erect, as the narrator tells of Britain’s economic prosperity. This is accompanied by slow, pastoral string music, in the very English style of Elgar or Vaughan Williams. A solo violin gradually ascends to a triumphant high note; however, as the narrative switches to bad news about Europe, it descends. The music becomes more minor and sombre, as on-screen the lion lies down and goes to sleep. The broadcast ends when a red tear rolls down the lion’s cheek, accompanied by a loud, throbbing minor chord. (Interestingly, it contains the same high major 2nd as the final chord of the previous broadcast, making it almost certain that the music was composed by the same person).

The next two PEBs, shown on April 9th and 16th, contain no music at all. The first consists of ‘vox pop’ interviews with people of the future, describing how the Labour government has let them down. The lack of music is intended to lend authenticity to the speakers, and make the broadcast feel like a ‘real’ documentary or current affairs programme. The April 16th broadcast is a piece to camera by John Major, explaining his position on Europe. Perhaps the producers thought that music was simply unnecessary, that it would add nothing to the sense of occasion. On the other hand, it is common knowledge that the Conservatives cancelled two PEBs at the last minute in order to allow John Major to address the country; the shoddy editing suggests that this might be one of them. In that case, sheer lack of time may have led to the absence of music.

The broadcast of 22nd April yet again predicts a gloomy future under Labour. It is based on the analogy of Labour as a tree without roots, which will fall down no matter how much it is shored up. The usual synthesised ‘drone’ is almost constant throughout; it is punctuated by xylophone chords, dissonant strings, metallic sound effects, and even a high repeated percussion note that resembles the famous shower scene in Psycho (1960). As the tree falls for the final time, a bell can be heard tolling. During the closing moments of the broadcast, a caption reads ‘You can only be sure with the Conservatives’; the music changes to warm, reassuring major key string chords.

The Conservatives’ final two broadcasts, broadcast on 25th and 29th of April, both consist of a monologue by John Major. The broadcast of the 25th ‘...reflected the extent to which the Tories were losing control of the agenda ... They decided to scrap their planned fourth broadcast [of the formal campaign], and instead John Major recorded a straight to camera piece’ (Norris, 1999: 63-64) Again, they contain no music, probably because it would have detracted from a supposedly serious, portentous occasion. Again, at least one of these broadcasts was hastily produced at the last minute, with little or no time for musical considerations.

In summary, analysing and describing the Conservative broadcasts’ music is not such a heavy task, since only half contain music and those that do are similar in musical style. The Tory party only used one piece of pre-existing music in their PEBs, and even that was a fairly outdated song from the 80s by Phil Collins. Perhaps this shows that they were more concerned with preserving their image as the traditional party of middle England, rather than appearing fresh and hip. The original music seems to have been composed by the same person; my research has failed to uncover the composer’s name, although rumour has it that Andrew Lloyd Webber was the culprit. It is interesting to note that the original music has much in common with that of the Labour broadcasts; a menacing ‘drone’, synthesised strings, and effects drawn from classic horror films. It is not inconceivable that the two composers are, in fact, one and the same.

Description of music - Liberal Democrat party broadcasts

The Liberal Democrats produced seven PEBs, three before the formal campaign and four during it. The original music was composed by Alan Price of the 60s rock group the Animals. The first two, shown on 18th September 1996 and 8th January 1997, were called ‘open circle’ broadcasts, in which Paddy Ashdown listened to members of the public. Each begins with the same piece of music; a pastoral oboe melody, accompanied by rather urbane synthesised strings. The music sounds classical, educated and rather like traditional Anglican church music; it bears a strong resemblance to the music for Pet Rescue, a Channel 4 daytime television show. It helps convey a sense of a thoughtful, homely and listening party.

The third Liberal Democrat broadcast (27th February) strikes a different note; John Cleese delivers a one man comedy routine encouraging people to vote Liberal. The only music found in this broadcast is a brief burst of ‘comedy’ music in the middle; it sounds like easy listening jazz music, or elevator music.

The next broadcast, shown on April 11th, is another ‘comedy’ offering. A ‘Punch and Judy’ show between Blair and Major is accompanied by a quirky bassoon melody and a shuffle rhythm on a snare. The music is meant to emphasise the silliness of the two main parties’ abusive campaign tactics. At the end of the broadcast, a snatch of 18th century classical music is heard; it sounds very much like a fast movement of a Beethoven concerto (unfortunately I have been unable to find out where this music originated). It portrays an image of the Liberal Democrats as classy, yet up-beat and dynamic.

The famous ‘Ashdown movie’ was broadcast on 17th April. Throughout, the music is similar to the pastoral oboe music of the ‘open circle’ broadcasts. The music flows in a constant, unobtrusive stream; the metre is almost indiscernible, lending a certain restless feel to the music (and to Paddy). Towards the end of the broadcast, as Paddy describes his motivation and future grandchild, the music becomes more forceful and determined; the strings sound harsher and more strident. It ends with a sustained unison note, plus a barely noticeable 5th. Interestingly, the music avoids ending in a gentle pastoral way; it is emphasising Ashdown the ex-SAS man, rather than Paddy the ‘wet liberal’.

The April 23rd PEB showed Labour and the Conservatives kicking ‘political footballs’ around a pitch. This is accompanied by the quirky bassoon music from the similarly-themed ‘Punch and Judy’ broadcast of April 11th. Also, the broadcast ends with the same snatch of classical music that is probably Beethoven.

The broadcast of 27th April could be entitled ‘Ashdown - the sequel’. It begins with brief ‘highlights’ from the broadcast of 17th April, accompanied by very similar pastoral oboe music. This is followed by shots of Paddy meeting the people, and a map of Britain turning yellow; it is accompanied by a well-known extract from ‘Nimrod’, The Enigma Variations by Elgar. This piece of music has a history of appropriation for nationalistic purposes; it was no doubt chosen in order to create an image of the Liberal Democrats as a long-established, major party in British history.

In summary, the music of the Liberal Democrats’ broadcasts tends towards tradition rather than innovation. Their pre-existing material is drawn entirely from conventional ‘classical’ music. The originally composed music is generally pastoral and genteel in nature; the music for the ‘comedy’ broadcasts is simple and plain. The aim of the music is to paint the Liberal Democrats as plain-speaking, listening and distinctive; they are distancing themselves from the tit-for-tat politics of Labour and the Tories. Moreover, the music seeks to portray Paddy Ashdown as a virtual president-in-waiting.

Description of music - minor party PEBs (including Plaid Cymru)

Of the nine minor party PEBs, six contain no music at all. Given the decidedly low budget appearance of these broadcasts, it would appear that the lack of music is due to economic rather than aesthetic reasons. Correspondence with the Liberal Party head office confirms that, at least in their case, shortage of money was to blame: ‘lack of finance dictated lack of music’. Also, the Natural Law Party claimed that BBC restrictions influenced their decision not to have music. The other minor parties whose broadcasts did not contain music were: the Referendum party, the Natural Law party, the UK Independence party, the BNP, and Socialist Labour.

The Green party’s broadcast on April 17th is a notable exception. The broadcast opens with an image of the earth from outer space, surrounded by twinkling stars. This is accompanied by sustained (synthesised) choir notes, entering at minor 2nd, 7th, 3rd and 6th intervals. It sounds unmistakably like classic sci-fi movie music of the 50s and 60s, in which an ‘ooh’ing choir symbolised the awe of space, e.g. the early series of ‘Star Trek’.

Next, there is a montage of scenes of environmental destruction. This is accompanied by a solemn, mournful oboe melody and synthesised strings (strangely reminiscent of the Liberal Democrat music). Towards the end of the broadcast, we see scenes of Green Party activists at work. A stretch of up-beat positive-sounding music begins; a harp plays a melody of broken arpeggios, accompanied by strings and, later, a vibraphone. (It resembles ‘Tubular Bells’ by Mike Oldfield) The harmony centres round a pedal point on the 5th of the tonic; this gives an impression of restlessness, as the harmony never resolves. Perhaps symbolising the party activists’ ceaseless labour. The broadcast ends with a shot of the Houses of Parliament surrounded by Green party sunflowers; the music ends on an unresolved dominant chord, as if it is posing a question: will you vote Green?

The Pro-Life Alliance broadcast, on April 24th, was for the most part without music. The controversial section, which was eventually broadcast blurred beyond all recognition, was graphic footage of abortions taken from an American documentary programme. The footage was accompanied by a pre-existing piece of solemn, heart-wrenching string music; ‘Angel’s Adagio’ by P. Merrick. Josephine Quintaville of the Pro-Life Alliance, who was involved in the making of the broadcast, informed me that: ‘The original American footage from which we took the abortion material had a very aggressive ‘soul searching’ ballad type song accompanying it. We went for a gentler sombre approach.’ It is clear that the aim of the music was to increase the sense of sorrow evoked by the on-screen images.

The Plaid Cymru PEB of 27th April made extensive use of an existing piece of music, ‘The Slave’s Chorus’ from Aida by Verdi. This slow, stately choral work is heard over the opening and closing shots of Welsh countryside, and later accompanying shots of the Welsh parliament buildings. This music not only conveys an image of Wales as a grand, proud nation; it is also a subtle reference to Plaid Cymru’s nationalist agenda (Wales freeing itself from the slavery of British rule). Karl Davies, Plaid Cymru’s chief executive, informed me that: ‘It was I who chose the ‘Slave’s Chorus’ from ‘Aida’ for the broadcast ... Yes there was a tongue-in-cheek reference to slavery.’ The music also draws attention to the tradition of choral singing that is closely associated with Wales, as Karl Davies confirmed: ‘The ‘Slave’s Chorus’ is also one of the pieces most closely associated with the Welsh National Opera ... I was eager that something associated with success in Wales should be used in the broadcast.’ All in all, the use of the ‘Slave’s Chorus’ is a deliberate attempt to arouse feelings of Welsh pride and patriotism in the viewer, in the hope that this will inspire them to vote Plaid Cymru.

Detailed analysis of Labour party PEB: 14th November 1996

The broadcast lasted for exactly minutes . As described briefly on pages 8-9, it consists of a series of short scenes or vignettes. The first consists of a middle-aged couple asleep at night-time; the second depicts a young couple wheeling a pram across a desolate landscape; the third shows an elderly woman going cold when her gas lamps splutter and die; and the fourth consists of an elderly woman walking down a darkened street, glancing nervously over her shoulder. Each brief scene concludes with a shadowy hand surreptitiously stealing the character’s wallet. In between the vignettes a caption appears: ‘ENOUGH IS ENOUGH’. The broadcast concludes with a shot of two clenched hands drawing closer and closer, while the voice-over quotes Kenneth Clarke and claims that ‘after 22 Tory tax rises, you’ll still be worse off’. This is followed by the ‘ENOUGH IS ENOUGH’ slogan; finally, there is a brief invitation to ‘help Labour’. The broadcast ends with Labour’s characteristic ‘musical slogan’.

The first vignette opens with a shot of the outside of a house. It is night-time; the wind rustles the leaves of the tree, and there is a tremendous clap of thunder. The music begins immediately; a glockenspiel plays a simple three-note melody that appears throughout the broadcast (see figure 1):

(Incidentally, the glockenspiel sound is doubtless produced by a synthesiser, which explains the unusual tinkling percussive effect that echoes the glockenspiel an octave above.) This theme resembles an out-of-tune music box, often used in classic horror films to signify a sinister, far-from-innocent character. For instance, in the 1962 film ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane’, a jangly music-box effect is used to symbolise the evil character Jane, who lives in a fantasy world of childhood stardom (example 1 on the accompanying cassette tape).

The glockenspiel theme is accompanied by an atmospheric, ‘oozing’ cymbal effect, which sounds like several sustained, dissonant cymbal ‘notes’ created on a synthesiser. This effect is similar to the eerie, suspenseful cymbal sounds found throughout the 1973 classic horror film ‘The Exorcist’ (example 2 on the cassette). Also, the music of the popular 1990s television programme ‘The X Files’ contains numerous examples of eerie cymbal effects (example 3). This music, combined with the menacing roll of thunder, effectively sets the scene for a scary and suspenseful five minutes ???.

At 0: the scene cuts to the middle-aged couple’s darkened bedroom, where they lie asleep. The glockenspiel theme and ‘oozing’ cymbal continue. Almost straight away there is another clap of thunder; this is followed by a single toll of a bell, which traditionally symbolises doom and despair.

As the couple sleep fitfully on, the voice-over begins to talk menacingly: ‘In the middle of the night ... something is happening to you ... the Conservatives are quietly taking [your money] away’. A close-up shot of the man’s wallet and loose change coincides with a tremendous crash of thunder, telling us that something significant is going to happen. The ‘oozing’ cymbal continues, and the glockenspiel theme fades out.

After the bedroom door creaks menacingly open (0: ), a new musical idea begins; pizzicato strings play frenetic clusters of dissonant notes, at both high and low pitches. This effect is drawn from the horror film genre; it was first heard in ‘The Exorcist’ (example 4), and was more recently used to memorable effect in many episodes of ‘The X Files’ (example 5). The pizzicato strings, ‘oozing’ cymbal effect and rumbling thunder carry on as a silhouetted hand slowly reaches for and takes the man’s wallet. At this point the sinister glockenspiel theme begins again. The middle-aged couple sleep on, unawares.

At 0: , the scene ends and the music stops. The slogan ‘ENOUGH IS ENOUGH’ appears in stark black and white; the appearance of each letter is punctuated by a loud crunching thump, in an attempt to make the message seem hard-hitting and purposeful.

The second vignette begins at 0: with a wide-angle shot of a young couple wheeling their pram across a desolate, cold and misty landscape. The opening two bars of the glockenspiel theme are heard, this time accompanied by a low, sustained, synthesised ‘drone’ (on the note E). The ‘drone’ is a horror music cliche, found in many film scenes whenever something bad is about to happen; it creates a sense of ominous tension. Prime examples of the sustained ‘drone’ can be found in the 1984 action thriller ‘The Terminator’ (example 6 on the cassette tape). They also form a fundamental part of the music of ‘The X Files’ (example 7)

As the young couple proceed across the gloomy landscape, the sound of crow calls, or perhaps birds of prey, add to the doom-laden atmosphere. As the young man’s foot lands on a discarded newspaper (0: ), the ‘drone’ ceases and the ‘oozing’ cymbal effect begins quietly. The young couple stop and glance anxiously around them; at this point the strange pizzicato strings start up again. The voice-over speaks of ‘... 22 Tory tax rises ... pinching money from decent, hardworking families...’ etc.

The camera cuts to a close-up of a pale grey hand sneakily reaching for the man’s jacket pocket, and stealing his wallet. The ‘oozing’ cymbal effect and pizzicato strings become louder and more insistent (an example of an episodic marker); at the moment when the wallet exits the pocket fully (0: ), they stop abruptly. A child’s voice sings the glockenspiel theme, but in D minor and triple time; the words are ‘twenty two today’:

The triple metre and child’s voice make this sound like a lullaby; it also appears to be a mocking reference to the traditional ‘happy birthday’ tune. The idea of a child’s voice symbolising nastiness is found in the classic horror film ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane’ (example 8 on the cassette). Perhaps here it is meant to symbolise that the young couple’s ‘birthday present’ from the Tories was ‘twenty two tax rises’. After the lullaby-like theme ends, the young couple walk sadly away; the glockenspiel theme is heard faintly, resembling a wind chime tinkling in the wind.

The third vignette, beginning at 0: , features an elderly woman absorbed in painting a china doll. She sits in a cosy and warm living room; the dull roar of gas lamps and fires is distinctly audible. However, this cosy scene is in stark contrast to the ominous background music, which consists of the glockenspiel theme repeated several times.

The voice-over resumes his narrative: ‘...but he [John Major] broke his promise again.’ Suddenly, the gas fire in the background goes out, and the roaring noise and glockenspiel theme halt. In the dramatic pause that follows, the voice-over intones ‘...putting VAT on your gas bill...’ At 0: the distinctive clusters of pizzicato strings begin, and the old woman gathers her cardigan around herself, as if feeling cold. The staccato, prickly nature of the strings perhaps symbolises goosebumps (an example of a tactile anaphone).

As the gas lamps start to go out one by one, the old lady starts and looks anxiously around. While the pizzicato strings continue more sporadically, a low menacing ‘drone’ enters (on E, the same note as in the second vignette). It fades out as the camera cuts to the sinister hand silhouetted on the living room wall, slowly reaching for the old woman’s purse. The ‘oozing’ cymbal effect begins, heightening the sense of threat and menace. As the hand picks up the purse, the pizzicato strings stop, the ‘oozing’ cymbal effect continues, and a child’s voice sings the ‘twenty two today’ lullaby-like theme.

The fourth and final vignette, starting at 0: , shows a smartly dressed young woman, laden with groceries, walking along a deserted urban street at night. The street is lit by a dim light with a greenish tinge, and the brick walls glisten wetly, making the setting look decidedly dank and frightening. A low sustained ‘drone’ begins immediately, sounding loud and prominent; it serves to heighten the sense of danger. (This sense is aided by some cliched but effective sound effects; a breaking milk bottle and a cat’s meow). As the woman hurries apprehensively along the street, a close-up of her hand reveals she is carrying a wallet.

Soon, the woman stops walking and glances fearfully behind her; at this point the ‘drone’ ceases. The voice-over says, ‘...wherever you go, the 22 Tory tax rises are never far behind’. Immediately, the eerie pizzicato strings begin to play, signalling the imminent stealing of a wallet. The ‘oozing’ cymbal begins too, increasing the sense of approaching danger. Terrified, the young woman turns and starts to run. As her pace picks up and she rounds the corner, the ‘oozing’ cymbal effect stops and the low, menacing ‘drone’ begins again, climaxing as she reaches a dead end (an example of an episodic marker). The woman backs up against a wall and drops her belongings, petrified; the low ‘drone’ stops and a child’s voice sings the mocking lullaby-like theme (at 0: ).

The scene cuts to a close-up of the scattered groceries and wallet on the ground. The wallet and spilled cash are sucked away by a sinister, inexorable, off-screen force; this is accompanied by a loud sucking noise. The vignette ends with a shot of the sinister thieving hand, silhouetted against a nearby brick wall.

The last scene of the broadcast (beginning at 0: ) consists of a long shot of two clenched hands, gradually drawing nearer and nearer. The hands appear pale and grey, perhaps symbolising the Conservative leader John Major, popularly depicted as the ‘grey Prime Minister’. Immediately, the ominous synthesised drone begins, quickly joined by the ‘oozing’ cymbal effect. The voice-over quotes Conservative chancellor Kenneth Clarke: ‘...we promised tax cuts last time - and weren’t able to deliver them’. On the words ‘tax cuts’, the pizzicato strings quietly begin to play, harking back to the thieving hand featured in the vignettes. As the voice-over finishes the sentence, the sustained ‘drone’ and cymbal effect stop, creating an expectant pause.

This pause is filled by the caption ‘22 TORY TAX RISES SINCE 1992’, while the voice-over claims that the viewer would still be worse off under another Tory government. This is accompanied by the pizzicato strings, which crescendo to a climax; at the end of the scene, a child’s voice sings the ironic lullaby-like theme ‘twenty two today’ (at 0: ).

The broadcast concludes with the seven-second ‘musical slogan’ that ends every Labour party PEB; an instrumental arrangement of a few bars of Things Can Only Get Better by D:Ream, described on page 8.

In summary, the music of the broadcast fundamentally consists of five musical ideas: the out-of-tune music box theme, the ‘oozing’ cymbal effect, the clusters of pizzicato strings, the low sustained ‘drone’, and the vocal lullaby-like theme. These five ‘building blocks’ are layered in various different ways, and are combined with cliched but effective sound effects (e.g. rolls of thunder).

The simplicity of the music’s construction is indicated by the fact that there are so few episodic markers and anaphones. In fact, there is only one example of a tactile anaphone; the pizzicato strings symbolising the old lady’s goosebumps in the third vignette.

The entire broadcast is awash with style indicators. The five ‘building blocks’ of the music are all drawn from the music of classic horror films (for instance, the out-of-tune music box is found in 60s horror films like ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane’). More widely, the music of the broadcast is drawn from suspenseful scenes of visual drama in general; for instance, a low sustained ‘drone’ is used many times to increase tension in ‘The Terminator’ and ‘The X Files’.

The similarities between the broadcast’s music and that of ‘The X Files’ may be significant. Three of the five musical ideas used in the broadcast – the clusters of pizzicato strings, the low menacing ‘drone’, and the ‘oozing’ cymbal effect - form a fundamental part of the music for ‘The X Files’. Perhaps the composer deliberately played on ‘The X Files’ s enormous popularity in the mid-1990s to strike a contemporary note with his audience.

Intended effects of PEBs

Generally speaking, the PEBs were intended to have three principal effects: (i) to help reinforce the parties’ broad campaign agendas, (ii) to galvanise loyal supporters to get out and vote, and (iii) to reassure ‘switchers’ that they were doing the right thing.

The Labour party’s PEBs were part of a coherent campaign strategy. The general theme was one of ‘hope versus fear’ - they aimed to counteract the Conservatives’ scare-mongering with a message of hope for the future. This was combined with heavily anti-Tory attacks. These dual tactics were emphasised in the PEBs: for instance, the slogan ‘enough is enough’ featured prominently in the campaign and is found in several broadcasts, combined with the ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ slogan. Labour’s own internal report states: ‘The objectives were the same for all these broadcasts as they were for all our campaigning and advertising; to reassure switchers and to motivate Labour supporters to vote’.

The Conservative party’s campaign strategy started out with a positive, ‘yes it hurt, yes it worked’ feel. When this failed to make an impact on the polls, they switched to extreme anti-Labour mode, aiming to strike fear into the hearts of voters. The ‘New Labour, New Danger’ slogan was incorporated into posters, press adverts and PEBs. The issue of Europe was very prominent in the John Major broadcasts; this reflected their growing desperation as public in-fighting split the party in two.

The Liberal Democrats’ overall tactic was to focus on three key issues: education, health and crime. This emphasis on social welfare was reflected in the content of their broadcasts; in fact, unlike the other main parties, the content of their PEBs adhered closely to the content of the manifesto. Mostly this was because the Liberal Democrats kept out of the attacking campaigns of the other two parties; ‘The Liberal Democrats ... were scarcely forced on the defensive and were free to pursue their own agenda.’(Norris, 1999: 66) The aim of their PEBs was to attract disillusioned ‘old Labour’ voters and others with their honest approach to tax.

The minor parties viewed the PEBs as an invaluable source of free advertising, giving them a golden opportunity to reach millions of television viewers for free. Their PEBs were positive advertisements, outlining the main points of their manifesto. As such the aim of their PEBs was to encourage disillusioned and cynical voters to cast their lot behind a small party, rather than one of the big three.

Actual effects of PEBs

Political commentators broadly regarded the Labour party PEBs as successful and cleverly done. Although it is impossible to prove the extent to which the broadcasts helped bring about their election victory, some helpful statistics are available. BARB (Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board) examined viewing figures for the PEBs and established that more people stayed tuned to the Labour broadcasts than the Conservative ones. In fact, although many people did switch channels, the audience figures for Labour’s PEBs fell by just 1%, whereas the Conservatives’ fell by 12%. This could indicate one of two things: (i) that Labour’s PEBs captured the mood of the country, meaning viewers were predisposed to be sympathetic to the broadcasts’ message, (ii) that Labour’s broadcasts were simply more gripping. Further statistics suggest that Labour’s overall campaign - of which the PEBs were a part - was highly successful. 82% of Labour switchers said they identified with the slogan ‘enough is enough’; only 4% said that agreed with the Tories’ ‘New Labour, new danger’ campaign. Moreover, 62% of voters said their opinion of Labour had gone up as a result of their campaign.

The Conservative party’s PEBs did not have the intended effect. The attempt to strike fear into the hearts of voters by envisaging a hypothetical ‘New Labour, new danger’ future did not work. The election result shows that voters simply did not believe them: in fact, statistics show that their ‘New Labour, new danger’ slogan struck a chord with just 24% of the voters. The broadcasts as a whole seem partisan, dated, predictable and sometimes cumbersome. Even the statesmanlike John Major broadcasts seemed to bore, rather than impress, the voters.

Virtually nothing has been written on the effectiveness of the Liberal Democrat PEBs. However, the general election resulted in 49 Liberal Democrat MPs in Parliament, an unprecedentedly large number. It seems clear that the Liberal Democrats’ campaign captured some of the ground vacated by old Labour, especially their promise to raise taxes for health and education. Their PEBs were probably a great help in getting this message across.

In summary, whilst it is impossible to prove beyond doubt what specific effect the PEBs had on voter behaviour, it appears that the Labour party’s broadcasts were the most successful. They chimed with the existing public mood, striking a chord with voters tired of the Conservatives. They set a fresh, new tone by using culturally relevant material like the ‘Spitting Image’ puppets. The Molly Dineen broadcast (24th April) was particularly clever, since it gave the impression of being an objective fly-on-the-wall documentary. Meanwhile the other parties - particularly the Conservatives - were churning out predictably partisan PEBs without exception. The Liberal Democrat ‘Ashdown movie’ was a similar attempt at documentary realism, but it was too polished and contrived to appear truly objective.

How did the music of Labour’s PEBs help achieve these effects?

Labour’s PEBs were clever, modern and chimed with the public mood. Their choice of pre-existing music was especially helpful in this regard. The D:Ream song Things Can Only Get Better, used as a ‘musical slogan’ to unify all the broadcasts, was contemporary, fresh and hip; the choice of a 90s dance anthem struck a chord with younger voters. The uplifting sentiment of the words (‘things can only get better, can only get better, now I’ve found you’) was emotional and joyous: ‘Labour’s general campaign theme was ‘hope versus fear’ … the message of hope [was] delivered … by the vague but optimistic claim summed up in their campaign PEBs and their theme tune: ‘Things can only get better’’.

Labour also chose an up-to-date Simply Red song (‘Star’), made culturally relevant by the 1995 hit film ‘Jack and Sarah’. Overall, their limited yet effective use of popular music is in stark contrast to the other parties: the Conservatives chose a rather out-dated Phil Collins for their 11th June broadcast, and the Liberal Democrats and minor parties steered clear of popular music altogether. Classical music was used sparingly by Labour; the notable exception to this rule was their clever and ironic 21st April broadcast, based entirely on ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ by Elgar.

The original music of the Labour party PEBs drew primarily from classic horror films. The broadcast of 11th April, analysed in detail above, provides prime examples of style indicators of the horror genre: the low ominous ‘drone’, eerie pizzicato strings, out-of-tune music box sound, ‘oozing’ cymbal effect, and so on. In the broadcasts as a whole, the sustained synthesised ‘drone’ was a prominent feature, designed to strike fear into the heart of the viewer in a simple but effective way.

However, references were also made to more recent horror music, particularly the music of the X Files which was highly popular in the mid-1990s. Shared features of the Labour PEBs and ‘The X Files’ include a low sustained ‘drone’, synthesised cymbal effects, a somewhat indiscernible metre, sparse orchestration, strange pizzicato strings, and low dark strings. These resemblances, which may have been deliberate, struck a contemporary note and made the broadcasts seem more up-to-date and relevant.

The original music also drew from other influences. The music of the 4th June broadcast resembled 90s dance music. The music of the Stephen Frears broadcast of 28th April was inspired by Hollywood Christmas movies (e.g. It’s a Wonderful Life) and the fantastical film music of John Williams.

Even lack of music was effectively employed in Labour’s PEBs. In the ‘fly-on-the-wall’ broadcast produced by Molly Dineen, the absence of music helps lend an authentic feel to the broadcast, encouraging the viewer to believe that it is an objective study of Tony Blair. Also, in the March 13th broadcast, the absence of music accompanying Gordon Brown’s piece to camera is in contrast to the almost constant ‘drone’ that accompanies the rest of the broadcast; the absence of sinister music helps create a warm, safe feeling. The Conservative party, on the other hand, failed to use lack of music to any great effect in their ‘John Major the statesman’ broadcasts.


The PEBs of the 1997 general election campaign provide a fascinating glimpse of a world where music and party politics collide. Only the music of news and current affairs programmes, political documentaries, and election night coverage come close to linking the two. The content of each broadcast was entirely under the control of the party that created it – with limitations, as the Pro-Life Alliance discovered to its cost – and consequently is unashamedly partisan in nature. Moreover, the eclectic music of the 1997 broadcasts, ranging from D:Ream and The X Files to Verdi, shared one common goal: to influence the outcome of the election. It appears that the music of the Labour party’s PEBs contributed, albeit modestly, towards their spectacular election win.

The future of PEBs is currently the subject of debate. The broadcasts of the 1999 European Parliament elections, and those of the London mayor and local elections this year, were in much the same vein as those of 1997; the music was similarly synthesised and low-budget. At present, political parties are gloomily aware that PEBs send the voters diving for their remote controls in droves; this goes some way towards explaining the mediocre quality of the music (and the production as a whole).

If party election broadcasts were abolished, and parties permitted to purchase 30 second advertising slots to ‘sell their product’, perhaps the quality of the music would rise to the standard of television adverts. However, such a move would be a devastating blow to the less well-off minor parties, who rely on their free five-minute slot as a primary link with the voters. Moreover, many political commentators would de-cry such a move as the further ‘Americanisation’ of British politics.

It may be the case that conventional party election broadcasts have had their day: the recent election for London mayor had on-line ‘advertisements’ for candidates such as Ken Livingstone and Frank Dobson. The internet may open up a whole new world of party election broadcasts, and render the traditional free television slots obsolete. In that case, the style of ‘party political music’ would require a radical re-think.


Allmovie. (8.5.00)

BBC news release: criteria for PEBs.

Butler, D., Kavanagh, D. 1997. The British General Election of 1997.

Cathcart, B. 1997. Were You Still Up For Portillo? Penguin.

Conservative party. (26.4.00)

Crewe, Crosschalk and Bartle (eds.) 1998. Political Communications: Why Labour Won the General Election of 1997. Frank Cass Publishers.

Cull, N. J. 1997. ‘Censored! The Prolife Alliance’. Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television vol. 17 (4). IAMHIST and Carfax Publishing Ltd.

Geddes, A., Tonge, J. 1997. Labour’s Landslide: the British General Election 1997. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

General Election 1997. (5.5.00)

Green party. (6.5.00)

Icast. (26.4.00)

Independent Broadcasting Authority Act 153, 1993.

Kavanagh, D. 1995. Election Campaigning.

Kennedy, M. 1980. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music (3rd ed.) London: OUP.

Labour party. (26.4.00)

Liberal Democrat party. (28.4.00)

Norris, P., Curtis, J., Sanders, D., Scammel, M., Semetko, H. 1999. On Message: Communicating the Campaign. London: Sage Publications.

Political Television. (20.4.00)

Sonicnet. (26.4.00)

Musical References

Phil Collins. 198? Something Coming Through the Air Tonight.

Crumb, G. 192? Night of the Electric Insects.

D:Ream. 1994. Things Can Only Get Better.

Elgar. ….. ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, from Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1

Elgar. ….. ‘Nimrod’, from The Enigma Variations

Merrik, P. Angel’s Adagio.

Oldfield, M. 19 Tubular Bells.

Verdi. ….. ‘The Slave’s Chorus’, from Aida.

Audiovisual Sources

It’s A Wonderful Life.

Jack and Sarah


Miracle on 34th Street

My Beautiful Laundrette (Stephen Frears). 1985.

Pet Rescue. 2000. Channel 4.


Santa Claus: the Movie

Star Trek (1st series). 1966 – 68. NBC/Paramount (USA).

The Exorcist

The Terminator

The X Files. 1996. ‘Paper Clip’. 20th Century Fox (USA).

The X Files. 1998. ‘Redux I’. 20th Century Fox (USA).

What Ever Happened to baby Jane.