Review: Political communication: from policy to marketing

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The Transformation of Political Communication: Continuities and Changes in Media and Politics By Ralph M. Negrine 2008
The Transformation of Political Communication: Continuities and Changes in Media and Politics By Ralph M. Negrine 2008

The Transformation of Political Communication: Continuities and Changes in Media and Politics
By Ralph M. Negrine
2008, Palgrave Macmillan, 226 pages

NegrineThe book starts with a handy list of events in media and politics arranged chronologically from 1850 to 2006, such as the formation of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 1927.

The aim is to explain the transformation of the key elements of political communication such as: political parties, campaign communicators, communication technologies and government communication. The theory is supported by examples drawn from mainly British and American political and communication history.

The main argument presented in the book is that the nature and content of political communication are not static – they have changed with every new technology of communication and with new methods of managing public perceptions, through an ongoing professionalisation of skills that surround the practice of political communication. All nine chapters are framed around this thought.

An introductory Chapter 1 sets the tone for the whole book and looks at the transformation and professionalization of political communication, through three examples:

Changes in the structure of political parties.

Here the problems of party funding and membership are discussed.

“Political parties must continually adapt to changing circumstances, be they in relation to funding, members, organizational needs, different media needs and so on. If they fail to adapt, they are unlikely to maintain a real and viable presence as a source of political ideas or as a potential government….The emergence of New Labour in the 1990s is a good example of how a political party changes its position in order to engage with an electorate that has also moved away from more socialist and radical politics.”

It is also argued that now more than ever before parties are concerned with their organisations and they seek to win votes by engaging in the process of ‘marketing’ politics rather than pursuing more traditional, ideologically-inspired positions.

Technologies of communication – new or just different?

The argument demonstrated here is whether or not and to what extent politics have control over the new media, and whether the Internet is “no more than the latest in a long line of technologies being used by political parties and others to spread content.”

‘Spin’ and ‘spin doctors’

This one I think would be of a particular interest to PR and media folk. Here the author mentions the “controversial figures” of Alastair Campbell who coordinated media relations for Tony Blair’s government from 1997 to 2005; Bernard Ingham, who worked for Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s; and Joe Haines who worked for Harold Wilson’s government in the 1970s.

This topic of professional advisers, including ‘spin doctors’ is further developed in the book, particularly in Chapter 4 , which I thought was quite interesting and worthwhile reading for those who are in the communication business. Professional advisers, claims Negrine, are ‘those individuals who have specialist and/or technical skills that have been acquired usually outside the world of politics and which are then employed in a political context’ and facilitate political parties with communication and, ultimately, with winning the electorate. Referring to Dennis Johnson’s terminology, Negrine subdivides professional advisers into strategists, specialists and vendors based on their role for political parties and candidates.

Overall, this book presents arguments and observations illustrated through multiple case studies. I would recommend this book for those who wish to get a scope of British and American political communication in the last century, and to get an idea of the co-existence of the worlds of politics and communication.