Politics is a hostile activity. Hit or be hit. It is not a world for the squeamish or the faint hearted.
I admit that the ‘attack adverts’ unveiled by Labor this week are distasteful and could damage their chances of regaining power. However, I don’t shy away from the sheer negativity.
I have no moral objection to it, even though one of them accuses Rishi Sunak of believing that pedophiles don’t deserve to go to prison.
In fact, I consider myself the godfather of negative campaigns. Professor David Butler, the most respected authority on the history of the British general election, once told me that I was ‘personally responsible’ for ruining British politics with negative publicity.
It was not a pleasant moment, but I am not ashamed of my contribution. The series of hard-hitting attacks Saatchi and Saatchi launched against Labor helped the Tories win 17 years in power. Negatives are needed. My personal unpopularity is the price I pay.
Politics is a hostile activity. Hit or be hit. It’s not a world for the squeamish or the faint-hearted, says Maurice Saatchi. Pictured: The Mail imagines what the ads might look like
The ‘attack adverts’ unveiled by Labor this week are distasteful and could harm their chances of regaining power
Altruism and lofty ideals naturally belong in politics, but our election campaigns are a brutal clash between two parties that cannot both prevail. One or the other has to deliver a knockout blow, and that means punching as hard as possible.
Intelligent politicians know that it is necessary to be negative, and always has been. Society is built on negations: nine of the Ten Commandments are negations. Thou shalt not do this, thou shalt not do that.
Negative campaigns are designed to bring an opponent to their knees—for, to quote another memorable saying from the Holy Land, “When the camel kneels, the knives go in.” That gory proverb implies that the best time for a butcher to strike is when an animal is weakened. Horrible, but true.
Keir Starmer, who supported Labour’s attack ads in the Daily Mail yesterday, wants to stab the Tory party. His method is clumsy and clumsy, and he will soon regret flopping the job.
When Margaret Thatcher came to Saatchi and Saatchi in 1979 and asked us to punch Prime Minister Jim Callaghan’s Labor Party, we did it with clinical precision and coined the phrase ‘Labour Isn’t Working’.
That slogan, above a picture of a winding queue, has been called the definitive political advertisement of the 20th century. It’s downright negative. It consists solely of an attack on the opposition, with only an unspoken promise that the alternative will be better.
But it encapsulated everything voters feared about Britain’s floundering socialist government. Labor was meant to be the friend of the working class – but what good was that if there were no jobs?
We followed that up in 1992 with another knockout blow. The headline was ‘Labour’s Tax Bombshell’, above a photo of a bomb with a printed warning: ‘You would pay £1,250 more tax a year under Labour.’
Altruism and lofty ideals, of course, have their place in politics, but our election campaigns are a brutal clash between two parties that cannot both prevail
Pictured: Labor leader Keir Starmer on a visit to Burnley College in East Lancashire
That negative message was a major reason why Neil Kinnock’s party, despite most pundits’ predictions, failed to win.
Five years later, Saatchi and Saatchi released the most negative attack ad of all: a photo of Tony Blair, with a strip ripped away to reveal his glittering red, demonic eyes. ‘New Labour, New Danger’ warned the slogan.
I’m proud of all those posters. They helped define the political landscape of the late 20th century. But I wouldn’t be proud of the current Labor advertisements that have caused so much controversy.
They fail because you don’t remember anything about them except the bad taste they leave in your mouth.
It’s a great skill to make a point in a few memorable words. Simplicity is the result of extreme technical sophistication, sobriety and brevity. It’s more than a discipline. It’s an ordeal. It accelerates failure when a message is weak, and purifies and strengthens a message that is strong.
To be effective, slogans must be sincere. Although Sir Keir claims he stands behind every word, I imagine he couldn’t remember the text accurately without picking up a copy and reading it.
Dishonest attacks do not convince anyone. Slander and insult are not the weapons of a true heavyweight. They only confirm voters’ suspicions that politicians will say anything to get to power.
But every attack in the boxing ring invites a counterattack. The Tories know they’re in the fight right now, and I hope they intend to land a knockout blow.
- Lord Saatchi was Chairman of the Conservative Party from 2003 to 2005.