The History of Political Broadcasts

The first Party Election Broadcasts were made on BBC radio during the 1924 general election campaign. The three main party leaders, Herbert Asquith of the Liberal Party, Stanley Baldwin of the Conservative Party and Ramsey MacDonald of the Labour Party each made a speech to the public lasting twenty minutes.

In 1947 the Committee on Party Political Broadcasts was established to regulate the number of broadcasting slots allocations to each party. The committee comprised representatives of the three main political parties together with the BBC.

Following the advent of the BBC television service, the first television Party Election Broadcasts where shown during the 1951 general election campaign. The first broadcast was made by the Liberal Party representative Lord Samuel, whose performance was deemed to be a fiasco when he read from a prepared script as if he was on the radio. On the subsequent evening, the Conservatives produced a more professional broadcast, with Anthony Eden being interviewed by the pre-war television veteran Leslie Mitchell.

Similarly, the Labour Party's broadcast on the third evening following the form of an interview, where Christopher Mayhew asked Sir Hartley Shawcross why a man ‘so well educated, well off and well dressed as he' should support the Labour Party. In these early years of television PEBs, broadcasts of around fifteen minutes where the norm.

In 1955, commercial television began broadcasting and the Independent Broadcasting Authority joined the BBC is offering airtime to political parties. ITV transmitted its first PPBs in 1956.

By the 1970s a new style of political broadcast was starting to emerge, where advert style features replaced the more formal public addresses. Hollywood producers and directors have offered their support to help their favoured party and celebrity endorsements have been wheeled out by all the main parties.

Today, broadcasts are limited to no more than five minutes with political parties often preferring broadcasts as short at two and a half minutes.

Apart from party election broadcasts, which take place during election campaigns, party political broadcasts are offered in Britain on a seasonal basis:  autumn – usually at party conference time - winter and spring.  The largest parties in Northern Ireland are offered a broadcast around their annual conference.  There are no longer Budget broadcasts.

The Communications Act requires those commericalbroadcasters with public service obligations to includePPBs in their programming in accordance with rules determined by Ofcom. The BBC and S4C are also required to carry PPBs, but are not regulated by Ofcom. Digital channels are not required to carry broadcasts but recently Sky has done so on its news channel voluntarily.