Think back to what the Liberal Democrat message was in the last Parliament. Much of it was about ‘look at all these nasty things we’ve stopped the Tories doing’. A reasonable claim based on the facts but politically an ineffectual one when it came to votes being counted.
Why? Well one simple reason is given by another question. What’s the photo that comes to mind when you think of how the Lib Dems stopped extreme Tory policies time and again over five years?
That is the problem. If I asked you for a photo of how the Liberal Democrats were working with the Conservative in government several readily come to mind. Cameron and Clegg on the steps of 10 Downing Street. The Rose Garden press conference. Clegg congratulating George Osborne after a financial statement.
And if I asked you for other Liberal Democrat images which come to mind over the last five years, a photo of Nick Clegg holding a certain pledge might just pop out of your memory banks.
But on that core message of ‘look at what we’ve stopped’ the image bank is almost completely empty. For nearly everyone it’s actually quite tough to think of any image which captures that.
Given how most voters pay only passing attention to politics, and how important visual imagery is – either in the form of TV news, eye-catching newspaper front pages or what is seen online – then it is hardly surprising that a message which fails to conjure up memorable images failed so badly.
Especially as in the absence of imagery with the right message, it is imagery with the wrong message which fills up the gap – something I suspect Labour too is going to suffer from in this Parliament given the way it is offering up images such as John McDonell with Chairman Mao’s Red Book, rather than images that given anything approaching a message to appeal outside the fringes of their own true believers.
Of course, for more on how to get imagery right, there is some handy advice in 101 Ways To Win An Election.