Monday, April 05, 2010

Ashes to ashes, funk to funky

No. No. No. No.

Political parties shouldn't try and do a self-consciously cool poster like the latest Labour "Ashes to Ashes" stunt. They just end up looking distinctly uncool - rather like a parent trying to dance at the school disco. Unless you ARE actually Patrick Swayze or John Travolta, don't try it, because you will end up looking a fool.

I can see why the competition was run - the mydavidcameron website produced some magnificent, inspired pastiches of the Tory posters (and continues to act as a nexus for ongoing work), but this is outside the party structure. The genius that is Beau Beau D'Or produces memes that tend towards the anti-Conservative end of the spectrum, but he'll have a swing at Labour too. It is very difficult to create a genuinely self-sustaining internet meme when you actually try - they seem to evolve of their own accord. Why the party thought that it could better the efforts of those people contributing to that site, I don't know, but it was a mistake and has simply provided grist to the anti-Labour side of the interwebs.

Then there is the subject itself. Yeah, I get it - voting Tory is turning the clock back to the 80s. The problem is that the person chosen to personify Cameron is Gene Hunt, who is something of a hero in the show and very popular for his straight-talking, non-PC PC work. The show is, bluntly, cool and you don't want to associate the opposition with something that is popular. Viewed through the eyes of the TV show, the 80s don't seem to be a bad decade to live in - Iain Dale reminds us of some of the 'triumphs' of the decade. Chief amongst them is that the Tories then had the ability to win elections and Labour was virtually unelectable for a large chunk of that decade, not something to which I am anxious to return, you understand.

Also, for a large section of the population, the 80s are ancient history. I'm 39, so I was a teenager during the decade, with a growing awareness of the political events, but anybody much younger than me simply isn't going to recall much of those years. Relying on the old fears about the Tories rolling back to 1979 may not be as effective as it has been in previous elections - Cameron has proved highly effective in washing off the grime accumulated during the 1979-97 parliaments. There are plenty of current policy differences over which we can attack the Tories and the press release launching the poster provides a few:
  • The National Minimum Wage, opposed by the Conservatives, has lifted a generation of young people out of poverty and it is Labour’s Child Tax Credits, Child Trust Funds and Sure Start centres that are helping give young families the best start in life

  • Everyone aged 18 to 24 will, with Labour, be guaranteed a job, training or work experience place if they are unemployed for more than six months.

  • There will be a guaranteed place in education or training for all 16 and 17 year olds
We've got a message to get out to the voters and this is what we should be saying. If contradictions appear between the Cameron veneer and some of the throwbacks still inhabiting the darker recesses of the Conservative party, then let's leap on them - like Chris Grayling's babbling about how religious freedom should excuse bigotry and discrimination (although he voted for legislation that provides for equal treatment in business)

But stop trying to create memes. There are plenty of people out there doing it without any help or influence from us. Some of their stuff works, some of it doesn't. The good stuff will out, but I suggest that it is actually more powerful if it doesn't come from a political party with the imprint attached. Let the crowd do the work for us - the web community is renowned for an independence of thought and a rejection of outside management, so let the champions of the Labour cause, the opponents of the Tories and the fellow-travellers do their work without party interference.
Memes create themselves. When they appear and when they suit us, repeat them and push them out through the network, but the party should feed them by pushing on policy and the dividing lines between us and the Conservatives. Supply the seed and the grassroots will flourish.

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