Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Northern Ireland party political broadcast hits and misses ... who sank and swam in election videos?

Scene from the election broadcast from the Alliance Party
Scene from the election broadcast from the Alliance Party
Scene from the election broadcast from the DUP
Scenes from the election broadcast from the Sinn Fein
Scene from the election broadcast from the SDLP
Scene from the election broadcast from the UUP
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Never mind the battle between Sainsbury's, Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Asda for the best Christmas advert. Our political parties are also going head-to-head this festive season.

The cold and dark nights limit canvassing considerably more than going to the polls early in the year, so the party election broadcast (PEB) may take on an added importance this time.

Have the DUP, Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance raised their game accordingly?

Well, the Ulster Unionists certainly haven't. Their PEB is the worst of all the parties by a country mile. Indeed, it is so bad that it could be argued that the party would have been better not making one at all.

The UUP may be operating on a limited budget, but that is no excuse for a total lack of imagination in this broadcast.

It begins with new leader Steve Aiken saying this is the most important election in generations.

A former submarine commander, he goes for an appropriate metaphor when he accuses the DUP of having "opened the floodgates" to Boris's Brexit betrayal by agreeing to a regulatory border in the Irish Sea in October.

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But it's all downhill from there for the UUP. There is nothing wrong with anything said in this PEB, but there are no memorable lines either.

It's so visually boring that it could put even the most devoted UUP supporter to sleep.

There are endless headshots of five men and just one woman, Jill Macauley in South Down, who is the party's only female candidate.

They are all seated in front of what looks like a large tree wall sticker. It is stale, stagnant and in complete contrast to the party's message of creating a vibrant, modern 21st century UK. The UUP is far better than this. Why Fermanagh and South Tyrone candidate Tom Elliott wasn't recorded somewhere more rural, in keeping with his constituency, is beyond me.

Alliance plays it safe in this election, with Naomi Long, leader and the party's greatest electoral asset, narrating its PEB.

Nobody else features, not even deputy leader Stephen Farry, who is in with a shout in North Down, but Long fronting is a tried and tested formula for the party.

The PEB all about Brexit, which isn't surprising. Local shots are mixed with foreign ones, including the Eiffel Tower. Alliance's call for a second referendum features prominently. The video is clean and crisp and moves along at a decent pace.

"Brexit isn't an orange or green issue and Alliance isn't an orange or green party," is the most memorable line.

Alliance knows its market and this is a more than decent, although not hugely exciting, offering.

The same is true for Sinn Fein's PEB. It focuses on just two candidates - John Finucane, who is taking on Nigel Dodds in North Belfast, and Elisha McCallion, who is trying to fight off the challenge of SDLP leader Colum Eastwood in Foyle. Finucane is a natural in front of the camera, McCallion is less convincing.

Given that the margins are tight enough for Sinn Fein in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, it seems strange that Michelle Gildernew wasn't included more.

There are only fleeting glimpses of her - one seated with party colleagues and another filmed with Michelle O'Neill and a cow.

Mary Lou McDonald appears at the end and is pitch perfect and every inch her professional presidential self. Although, why she is sporting an Easter lily weeks before Christmas isn't clear.

Claire Hanna and Colum Eastwood dominate the SDLP's PEB. They are their party's best media performers and also its only two candidates who can win.

This is a cute, quirky PEB where the message is that the SDLP's values since its formation have matched the EU's. There's a trip down memory lane - thankfully not too long - with John Hume speaking in the European Parliament. Good use is made of alliteration - 10 Toxic MPs (DUP, of course) - and the party boasts of its own principled, passionate pro-European politics.

The SDLP's PEB is great, but the DUP's just has the edge for me. It opens with a young couple walking to the polling station, the father pushing a pram, the mother holding their other daughter's hand.

There's no mention of Brexit and no attacks on Sinn Fein. They're voting DUP because the party delivered £1.5bn for Northern Ireland - that's mentioned twice. A nurse, pensioner, and farming couple then briefly appear to talk about what that money means for them.

The gender balance in the video is excellent. Indeed, women feature more prominently. It's warm and personal.

This is a beautifully shot PEB crafted to win over moderate unionist voters. It may not be in keeping with the more aggressive tone of the party's campaigning in some constituencies, but it is clever and very watchable.

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