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UK Politics

European Parliament Election 2014: How not to run a political campaign

Ukip's latest error of judgement is the most recent in a long line of political strategies gone wrong

A day seldom passes without Ukip making an ass of itself in some new and unforeseeable way. The Sun was outraged yesterday that it should use the sacrifice made by British soldiers who died in the First World War as party-political propaganda. As the day progressed, it turned out that it had not done its basic research, either.

It is too late now to help out with this election campaign, but for future reference, this cut-out-and-keep guide for spin doctors might help them to steer around the most obvious elephant traps in future.

Remember: not everyone cares about politics as much as you do.

Ukip reproduced a photograph of a war grave under the heading: "They fought and died to keep Britain free from foreign invasion." Its first offence was against good taste. Although it is very nearly 100 years since the start of the First World War, the public still revere the memory of the war dead, and do not like seeing them being used in this trivial context.

Do your research.

Ukip might have got away with just a weak grasp of history, which makes it suppose that the country went to war in 1914, or 1939, "to keep Britain free from invasion". In both cases, it was because other countries had been invaded. But the party made an even worse mistake by not studying the photograph it used: while some of the graves depicted were of British soldiers, most were of French soldiers, whose country, unlike the UK, was fighting off a foreign invasion.

Be careful how you use statistics.

Labour slipped up badly this month with its "two peas in a pod" advertisement, which accused David Cameron and Nick Clegg of adding £450 to the weekly shopping bill by putting up VAT. In January 2011, VAT went up by two and a half pence in the pound, which would cost you £450 if you spent about £20,000 on items on which VAT is payable. If that was not bad enough, the accompanying illustration consisted mostly of food items, on which there is no VAT.

When hiring actors, check them out.

Another of Ukip's recent mistakes was to create a billboard poster warning that British workers have been "hard hit" by cheap labour from other EU countries. The face on the billboard was that of an Irish actor.

When using real people, check them out…

Ukip's April political broadcast featured Andre Lampitt, who looked like a reasonable sort, complaining about what a struggle it is to find work when competing with East Europeans. In no time, an embarrassed party leadership suspended Lampitt's membership because of racist comments made on Twitter.

…even if you don't mean them to be identified.

During the 1992 election campaign, the Labour Party ran a highly professional broadcast dramatising the story of a young girl with glue ear whose mother was told that the only quick way to get treatment was to pay for it. This was based on a true story, embellished a little. The Labour Party wrongly assumed that the girl would not be identified, but within hours, the family had journalists on their doorstep. The attempt to make the NHS an election issue was lost in the resulting furore.

Don't pose a question that invites the wrong answer.

In 2005, the Conservative campaign slogan was: "Are you thinking what we're thinking?" "No," the voters replied.

And if you must do an attack ad, don't flatter your opponent by mistake.

In April 2010, David and Ed Miliband launched Labour's new campaign poster, depicting David Cameron as DCI Gene Hunt from the strangely popular television series Life on Mars, with the slogan: "Don't let him take Britain back to the 1980s." This assumed that everyone had bad memories of the 1980s, which they haven't; that Cameron looked like someone from the past, which he didn't; and that the association with a much-loved fictional hero could damage him. The Conservatives loved the image so much they used it themselves.