Labour fell for Social Media myth, says Lord Bell

Labour Still Isn't Working poster - 1979 General Election

The V & A provided a suitably grand setting for Lord Tim Bell to give his view on the General Election campaign and regale the gathered group of communicators with tales of some of the most famous ad campaigns in history.

CIPR Fellow, Lord Bell was in South Kensington as part of the Always Print the Myth exhibition put on by Alan Edwards – one of the best-known names in Showbiz PR.

The exhibition has run for a couple of weeks and seen some of the biggest names in communications appear as guest speakers. However, Edwards was particularly pleased with the timing of Lord Bell’s appearance as the veteran of Margaret Thatcher’s PR team.

Apologising for being a little bleary-eyed – the 73 year old had not slept since before the election – Lord Bell said that the whole thing had been a nostalgic experience.

Lord Bell spoke at Always Print the Myth the day after the election
Lord Bell spoke at Always Print the Myth the day after the election

The man who was behind arguably the most famous election campaign poster in British history – Labour Isn’t Working – gave his views on what he had witnessed over the last six weeks.

“None of the leaders dare appear natural. Both parties have been hermetically sealed,” he said. In part he put this down to the fact that the main parties had employed American PR gurus who lacked understanding of how the British public think. Describing Americans as “unbelievably emotionally rational” he said that the various reasons, such as a lack of a real national press meant that campaigning was done differently in the States, where the trans-continental nature of social media could have a greater impact.

After hearing from Edwards that Alastair Campbell had told them the week before that Labour’s social media strategy would win them the election, Lord Bell commented: “The Labour Party fell for the ludicrous myth that social media has taken over. Newspapers still have a real influence. They set the agenda and social media follows.”

While most were still discussing how the pollsters failed to predict which way voters would go, Lord Bell said that he felt the result was never in doubt – but that the electorate was tired of questionnaires. “People are fed-up with being asked because they don’t want a lecture. Pollsters can’t measure that.”

During an entertaining evening Lord Bell also shared his memories of his most famous campaign – Labour Isn’t Working – for then opposition Leader Margaret Thatcher. Famous for depicting a long line of job seekers during a time of high unemployment, Lord Bell said that the Iron Lady was not best pleased when she first saw the poster.

“At the time,” he recalled. “Posters generally said things along the line of ‘Vote Conservative’ ‘Vote Labour’ and Mrs Thatcher wasn’t keen on having the word Labour on a Conservative poster. I explained to her that it was a double entendre – Labour market isn’t working, Labour Government isn’t working.

“She said she ‘hoped the ordinary people of the United Kingdom were as smart as you’.”

The poster went on to be credited for the Conservative victory in 1979 and ushering in the Thatcher era. Twenty years later Campaign voted it the “Best Poster of the Century”.

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  1. Tim is right when it comes to social media and politics only the BBC with its’investment in in the Internet uses social media to’lead’/set their news agenda. Small wonder the Tories complain about the bias of their election coverage. But Tim, innovative posters came in with Alec Douglas-Home and Lord Poole don’t you remember the’ Meanwhile the Conservatives have signed the test ban treaty’and others like it or the use of day-glo for the first time. The 60s and the 70s had transforming political communication too.

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