That photo required a context in which it could be memorable – a dramatic election result (Sarah Green’s victory) and a broader political trend (the shift in the political geography of Britain) that it could illustrate.
But the image then made those into something memorable, producing a new vocabulary about blue walls and orange hammers.
The contrast I should have made, but didn’t, was with the 2010-2015 coalition government. As I wrote in 2015 after that year’s general election:
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.
Not only was that image bank almost completely empty. So too was the positive image bank. The party repeatedly put great emphasis on increasing the income tax allowance. But there was no memorable image of that or any other positives. (With perhaps the partial exception of the legalisation of same-sex marriage. That certainly produced some wonderful and memorable photographs. But they were as much about cross-party and non-party campaigning as about what the Lib Dems, and Lynne Featherstone in particular, had achieved. Great photos, but not a powerful political message.)
A message’s messenger matters. When it’s a memorable photo, the message has a greater impact as the message gets remembered.
More on how to make the most of photographs in political campaigning in 101 Ways To Win An Election, of course.
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