Opinion: Howard posters a cheap stroke of genius

The silly row over Labour's supposedly anti-Semitic political posters is now over, but TBWA's Trevor Beattie, Labour's election poster maestro, would have wanted it to go on and on.

As Beattie told The Independent this week, the publicity generated by a campaign is as important as the campaign itself. Indeed, what makes the current row so pleasing for party strategists is that, in this case, they have hardly had to spend a penny.

The story went like this. A number of posters dealing with the Conservative Party's economic policy launch were designed for Labour's website, where members could vote for the one they liked best. That doesn't mean that their favourite design would appear on billboards across the nation - they would never be trusted to decide that.

The first poster to make waves depicted Michael Howard and Oliver Letwin as flying pigs with the slogan: 'The day the Tories' sums add up.' When someone told me that it was anti-Semitic I couldn't quite work out why.

A friend told me that the Jewish religion sees pigs as being unclean and that the Tory leader and shadow chancellor are both Jews. But I never would have got that one in a million years. The other poster depicted Howard supposedly looking like Fagan or Shylock from The Merchant of Venice. Both claims are pretty crass.

In any case these 'controversial' posters were never intended to be seen on our streets. They have already been scrutinised and, therefore, have done their job. And by pulling them on Tuesday even more publicity was guaranteed.

Between now and the election, expect plenty more attempts by the parties to get their message across on the cheap with 'negative advertising'.

It is true that leaders are always a bit squeamish about personally attacking their opponent and Peter Mandelson once did a secret deal with John Major's team not to. It wasn't Major who broke the deal and, technically, neither did Labour.

Our campaign team had come up with a series of ads depicting Major as Mr Men. It was a pretty silly idea but effective.

I was given the task of leaking them to the press on the basis that Tony Blair had vetoed them for being too personal and too negative.

A number of Sundays ran the 'Mr Weak' Major cartoon with the 'veto' story and so, for virtually nothing, we got our message across.

Blair, of course, knew absolutely nothing about it, just as he will have known nothing about the so-called anti-Semitic ads.

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