The political discourse of leaders Chapter 3 analysed the relevant aspects of the political discourse of leaders: alternative communication styles were described as well as the relationship between these styles and party personalisation. A particular emphasis was placed on populism and on populist leaders. We now move one step further and discuss ‘where’ and ‘how’ this relationship should be researched; by so doing, we enter the field of political communication and of its methodologies. Generally speaking, content analysis is the technique suited to gather this kind of information; it may be used, in principle at least, to measure and scrutinise all forms of communication in which parties and their leaders are involved, whether written, oral, or televised. Given its versatility from a methodological point of view, content analysis renders irrelevant the distinction between the external communication between leaders and public opinion at large and the processes of internal communication within the parties. This distinction raises practical problems, however: while parties are very open about their external communication processes, politicians usually prefer to conceal internal matters, such as factional disagreements or spoils systems arrangements. One way of bypassing this problem consists in examining party manifestos: among many functions these perform − from candidate recruitment, to electioneering, to governmental decision-making − parties offer policy proposals to attract voters’ support. Of course, the policy profiles of parties have been adapted to changes in party organisation. The policy programmes of the mass parties originated directly from the ideology of these parties: thus policy positions did not change frequently and the leaders’ role was limited, as these were not supposed to be original policy ‘designers’. Policy propaganda was largely due to the party bureaucracy and to the grassroots campaigners. The roles of policy profiles and of leaders changed, however, with the advent of ‘electoralist’ or ‘catch-all’ parties from the 1960s. Policy profiles became based less on ideology and were more (electorally) market-oriented; they were

built on the basis of the people’s views ascertained by means of surveys. Party leaders also came to play a critical role, as they were responsible for promoting among the voters party policy positions associated with their own image. Paraphrasing one of the typical concepts used in electoral research, one could say that parties competed attributing to their leaders a ‘personal issue ownership’. The leaders’ presence in political communication is a key theme to be discussed later in this chapter. Here the problem is how to assess the leaders’ role in settling the party policy agenda. As every matter affecting the internal life of parties, the drafting of the programme is not a fully transparent process. To weigh different influences exercised by internal branches and organisational bodies on party policy positions is complex. Quantitative methods do not seem particularly helpful in this respect; interviews with sophisticated observers should be used to implement a qualitative and prevalently descriptive approach. Nevertheless, at least some points could be assessed with the help of quantitative techniques: a major opportunity is offered by the data collection untertaken by the Comparative Manifesto Project (Budge et al. 1987, 2001), in which contentanalyses of electoral manifestos are divided into fifty-four categories falling into seven general sectors.2 This approach aims at assessing position or valence issues, the relationship to social groups as well as Left-Right standing. A huge amount of information is thus available about a large number of parties in Western democracies. This information renders possible the systematic comparison of the policy standpoints of parties as well as their Left-Right positioning. Yet a question remains: what is the leaders’ role in these processes? The Comparative Manifesto Project data differs from the others which are usually used to assess parties’ positions, such as survey data and expert judgements: showing the party policy profile in all elections since the Second World War, this data is able to describe long-term changes. It is thus possible for instance to throw some light on policy U-turns. Alternatively – but with the same scope − one can measure the movement of a party along the Left-Right continuum between two or more elections. British politics offers some remarkable examples of such movements. On the one hand, the leadership of the Conservatives under Mrs Thatcher has been viewed as the start of a neo-conservative approach, when an authentic policy ‘revolution’ took place in the government or, which is more relevant here, in the party. On the other hand, during Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour adopted a new organisation, campaign style and policy standing. Changes were so marked that the party was renamed ‘New’ Labour. The Comparative Manifesto Project data rightly detected what was happening: examining the Left-Right positioning of the main British parties in the 1997 parliamentary election, Budge (1999) discovered a remarkable stability among both Liberals and Conservatives, while Blair’s New Labour experienced major changes. First, at the 1997 election, New Labour leapfrogged the Liberals, assuming for the first time since the 1940s a median position between Liberals and Conservatives. Second, the centripetal movement was so striking that ‘New Labour’ bypassed the centre of the ideological space and moved to a position which was slightly on the Right.