Britain’s political humour wars

I’ve always taken the view that rightwingers are funnier than leftwingers. There are exceptions, of course – Armando Iannucci, Mark Thomas, Bird & Fortune – but leftwing attempts at humour are often stifled by political correctness and the desire not to offend. My view is changing thanks to the online poster wars. The Conservative attempts to counter the hugely funny send-ups of David Cameron’s posters by leftwing bloggers just haven’t worked. Compare and contrast My Labour Poster, a spin-off from the Conservativehome blog, and My David Cameron (also known as Airbrushed for Change), the far more amusing efforts by Labour activists to spoof the David Cameron posters, which were widely picked up by the mainstream press. Compare and contrast:

With the hopeless efforts posted to My Labour Poster. These are perhaps the worst, from a dismal selection:

The problem is that almost all the Tory efforts try to make serious political points – exactly the problem leftwing humour used to have. The fact that Gordon Brown sold off large chunks of Britain’s gold reserves when the price was low might be a (small) stick to beat him with, but just isn’t funny. And the 45 minutes claim (about the dodgy dossier) isn’t much of a political point from a party which also thought the invasion of Iraq was a good idea. There were two which caught my eye, though. This one isn’t really party political, but pokes fun at a Tory MP, Nicholas Winterton, who is moaning about the expenses reforms preventing him travelling first class:

And this one is reasonably amusing, too, even if what you learn from it is mainly about the prejudices of the creator. It also managed to annoy Labour, which is presumably the point (see Labour councillor Luke Akehurst’s attack – he objects to Labour voters being equated to “working class oiks who didn’t go to Eton or even whichever place Osborne went to = people on benefit = work-shy benefit-fraudsters”) The Tories need to bring back Saatchi’s creative genius. “Labour isn’t working” won’t cut it with unemployment still well below the Thatcher peaks, but surely they can do better than the weak posters they’re coming up with? As an aside, my colleague Caroline Daniel pointed me to a story she wrote about “nice” politicians back in 1998, which contained this comment:

Yet according to Ian Christie, deputy director of Demos: “One purpose of socialism ought to be to allow more people to sit around in cafes having fun with each other. Instead, the left often has a sense that they are doing more important things than the right, that they shouldn’t hang around being funny but need to be earnest and active. Yet social cohesion can be promoted by laughter and companionship.”

Perhaps now, after 13 years of Labour government, the Tories are finally worked up about the important things they want to be doing; dull and serious might work at policy conferences, but it is no fun. And the policies, such as they are, don’t seem to be winning over as many voters as Tories would wish.

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Christopher Cook is an FT editorial writer. Before joining the FT in 2008 as a Peter Martin Fellow, he worked for three years for the Conservative party.

Lorien Kite is deputy comment editor, a post he took up in 2009 after four years as a commissioning editor on the analysis page. He joined the FT in 2000.

Ian Holdsworth became assistant features editor in 2009 and was previously chief production journalist for the features pages.


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