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The Battle for the Campaign Agenda in Britain 1997 The 1997 election was a struggle not just for votes but also to control the campaign agenda Significant but contradictory challenges faced the media parties and the public For journalists the problem was how to engender any zip into the campaign Ever since Black Wednesday in September 1992 Labour had seemed assured of victory while Conservative support floundered in the doldrums For five years perhaps it just seemed like longer pundits had been writing of the end of the Conservative era bolstered by all the accumulated evidence from opinion polls by-elections and local elections By the start of the six-week official campaign the horse-race story was almost lifeless Moreover to the dismay of leader-writers commentators and columnists Blairs strategic shift towards the centre-left had removed much of the drama of serious policy conflicts between the major parties Few issues remained where one could discern clear blue water between Labour and the Conservatives - devolution and constitutional reform perhaps the faint ghost of trade union rights and spending priorities - but on so much the contest was a classic case of an echo not a choice Lastly at the outset the campaign promised tight party control in as gaffe-free an environment as could be humanly managed At the start the Labour party seemed insecure and sweaty despite its enormous lead in the polls and the professional andelson machine at Millbank Tower left almost nothing to chance as though the souffle of support might suddenly collapse Based on their formidable track-record during the 1980s the Conservatives had a reputation for running highly professional campaigns Given the palpable sense of public boredom and impatience a feeling of oh-do-lets-get-on-with-it the challenge for journalists was to find something fresh and interesting to hold the attention of their readers and viewers During
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