Negative campaigning is ‘essential’ – but Starmer’s attacks on Sunak won’t work, warns advertising guru Saatchi

Saatchi said Starmer’s claims about the prime minister come ‘out of nowhere’

Archie Mitchell
Friday 14 April 2023 20:33 BST
Related: Keir Starmer makes Partygate jibe towards Rishi Sunak in fiery fiery Commons exchange

Sir Keir Starmer’s adverts attacking Rishi Sunak will not work because they “come out of thin air”, an advertising guru has warned.

Maurice Saatchi, whose firm masterminded the “Labour isn’t working” poster in 1979, said Mr Starmer’s claims about the prime minister, which targeted his record on crime, had come “out of nowhere”.

The co-founder of Saatchi and Saatchi said negative campaigning in politics is “absolutely essential and correct”. But to be effective, Lord Saatchi said such adverts must be based on “a real philosophical viewpoint” or “serious thought”.

“My objection to these Labour posters would be that they come from nowhere,” he told LBC.

The Labour Party last week launched a series of adverts directly linking the prime minister to issues including child sex abuse, gun crime and theft.

One claimed that Mr Sunak does not think child sex abusers should go to prison, while another said he thinks adults convicted of possessing a gun should be spared jail. A poster this week saw the party take aim at Mr Sunak’s wife after The Independent revealed she avoided tax by claiming non-dom status.

Lord Saatchi said: “If you want these negative campaigns to be effective, they have to start from a real philosophical viewpoint, a serious thought. It cannot start out of thin air, like these.”

The former Tory chair said negativity on its own does not sell unless it is an “expression of what is judged to be wrong with the opposing party”.

Saatchi and Saatchi’s classic 1979 poster
Saatchi and Saatchi’s classic 1979 poster

Referring to his famous poster, he said: “That image, and that phrase ‘Labour isn’t working’, and the dole queue did express something completely fundamental to conservative philosophy.

“It expressed the basic conservative view of a Labour government, which is that it may be very caring and it may want to do very nice things. But if it is incompetent in looking after the money, then it is not going to work.”

Despite saying Labour’s adverts will not work, Lord Saatchi said he had no criticism of them for being “low”. The party was accused of descending into “gutter politics” for the posters, but Mr Starmer said he “stands by every word” of his criticisms of Mr Sunak.

Lord Saatchi said it is the job of a politician to point out their opponents’ problems, comparing campaigning to a boxing match: “When you are in a general election campaign, you are in the boxing ring, and your opponent has hit you in the face.

“What are you going to do now? There is only one thing to do now, which is to land a blow on your opponent’s chin which knocks him out. And that’s what is required. That’s why you won’t hear a word of criticism from me about negative campaigning.”

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