On Saturday 3rd April 2010 the Labour Party officially launched its latest poster campaign which featured the face of Conservative Party leader David Cameron photoshoped on to the body of the fictional television character DCI Glen Hunt sitting astride an Audi with the slogan "Don't let him take Britain back to the 1980s". Designed by Jacob Quagliozzi, a twenty-four year-old Labour supporter from St Albans, this idea was one of the winning entries in a competition organised by Labour's advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi.

The point here being that the character of DCI Glen Hunt, played by Philip Glenister, first appeared in the time-travelling 1970s throwback police series Life On Mars in 2006, which was then followed by three series of Ashes To Ashes set in the eighties (The most recent of which began broadcast on the Good Friday.) Therefore by portraying David Cameron as a character from a hit television series set in the eighties, the Labour Party was trying to communicate the idea that Cameron's politics were similarly 'from the eighties'. Of course the real reason that the Labour party ran a competition to design its election posters was that it couldn't afford to pay anyone to do so. But never mind, the Labour Party was pretty excited about this initiative, since it was the Party's "first digital outdoor poster", and even produced a Youtube video to go with it, as they claimed that it demonstrated how they understood the "power of the internet far better than their political opponents". Quagliozzi himself said that he "wanted to remind the public that David Cameron has failed to change the Conservative Party and show the threat they would pose to young people, whilst Robert Senior, the chief executive of Saatchi and Saatchi, described the design as "brutally simple" and claimed that it "captures a lot in very few words".

The official launch at a school in Basildon featured both the Miliband brothers in matching dark suits with contrasting pink and blue open-necked shirts, in what was described as "a pitch for the youth vote". David Miliband was on hand to rub in the eighties theme as he described that time as featuring "a meaner, more brutal Britain"; brother Ed Miliband pushed the youth message as he expressed the hope that the nation's "under-25s" would "support Labour's future fair for all young people", whilst John Prescott was also there to claim that it made "Cameron look like a second-hand car dealer trying to flog a clapped-out Thatcherite banger of a party".

All of which told us something important about the modern Labour Party; namely that it remained obsessed with the figure of Margaret Thatcher. Indeed the typical Labour Party activist was still inclined to blame her for ever social ill ranging from Global Warming to the failure of the local council to collect the bins on time. However whilst the typical Labour activist might well have regarded the 1980s as a dark age of ignorance and despair, this was not necessarily the case for the rest of the population whose view of the past was not determined entirely by election results.

Leaving aside the point that, for today's youth, the 1980s would be nothing more than a decade that provided four of the digits displayed on their birth certificate, not everyone was a coal miner, and to many the eighties would be the time when they bought their council house, spent their youth partying till dawn, or had their first sexual experience behind the bike sheds of the local comprehensive. Their response to the threat of being taken back to the eighties might well have been 'Yes please' and 'When can you start', as they contemplated a time when the nation's banks were solvent and the national debt was still a number that they found roughly comprehensible. A pause for reflection might well have led Labour to the conclusion that displaying an obsession with the past was something of a mixed blessing in itself, and also alerted them to the major flaw in their grand electoral plan.

Now granted the fictional DCI Glen Hunt was the kind of police officer who didn't so much bend the rule book, as seize it in both hands and deploy it as a weapon to beat a confession out of the prime suspect, but he was nevertheless the star character in a hit television series who had, as Andrew Billen once wrote in The Times, "become an icon of political incorrectness, a truth teller for his time and ours, an object of transgressive female lust and a legend". It should really have occurred to someone in the Labour Party that identifying your main political opponent with a "legend" and an object of "female lust" (transgressive or otherwise) was not necessarily the smartest move in the political play book.

The Labour Party launched their poster at 10.40 am on the 3rd April. Some four hours later at 2.45 pm that very same day the Conservative Party produced their own version of exactly the same poster featuring the slogan "Fire up the Quattro - it's time for change" and announced their intention to display it on exactly the same electronic billboard sites chosen by Labour. The Conservative party chairman, Eric Pickles, offered his congratulations to the "Labour team" for their work of "pure genius" as Cameron himself offered to "lend Labour the money" for more of the same. The Labour Party had indeed scored perhaps the most spectacular own goal in British political history, having succeeded in achieving the apparently impossible task of making David Cameron look cool, sexy and sophisticated.


'Fire up the ­Quattro' was of course the 'Gene Genie's' catchphrase from Ashes to Ashes. It is expected that Gordon Brown will announce the date of the General Election on Tuesday.


SOURCES

  • Andrew Billen, Philip Glenister ditches DCI Gene Hunt for Demons, The Times January 2, 2009
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/men/article5428276.ece
  • James Robinson, David Cameron depicted as Gene Hunt in Labour poster, The Guardian, 2 April 2010
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/apr/02/david-cameron-gene-hunt-labour-poster
  • The Labour Party, Labour’s ‘Ashes to Ashes’ poster warns against going back to the ’80s, April 3, 2010
    http://www.labourmatters.com/the-labour-party/labours-ashes-to-ashes-poster-warns-against-going-back-to-the-80s/
  • Patrick Hennessy, Labour's Ashes to Ashes poster scores own goal, Daily Telegraph, 03 Apr 2010
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/election-2010/7550214/Labours-Ashes-to-Ashes-poster-scores-own-goal.html
  • Simon Walters and Glen Owen, Labour scores own goal as 'flattered' Cameron takes just four hours to hijack 80s Gene Hunt poster for Tory campaign, Mail on Sunday, 04th April 2010
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1263244/Cameron-80s-TV-cop-Gene-Hunt-new-Labour-campaign-poster.html
  • Jane Merrick, Labour poster turns Cameron into a cult hero, Independent on Sunday, 4 April 2010
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labour-poster-turns-cameron-into-a-cult-hero-1935428.html

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