Friday, 23 April 2010

No, just no.

So, Labour have just released a poster. A quick description of it:

A landscape poster in billboard proportions, black background. The right three-quarters are taken up with white sans-serif text - large text saying "They'll turn Great Britain into Little Britain."1 and smaller text below saying "Under the Tories, Britain would have less influence on the world stage.". The left quarter is a picture of the fictional characters "Lou and Andy" from the TV show "Little Britain" but with David Cameron's face pasted over the standing Lou, and William Hague's face pasted over the sitting Andy.

I hadn't seen the show, so I looked up the synopsis of the characters on Wikipedia. The premise is horribly ableist, drawing heavily on the "disabled people are just faking it" and "disabled people have unpleasant personalities and/or are unintelligent" tropes.

The selection of those particular characters (the TV show had a lot to choose from) adds to that. It's trying to draw a link between Cameron and Hague and the unpleasantness of the characters, but that link only makes sense as a negative link because of the ableism associated with the characters in the first place. Otherwise it would be "Cameron is like an assistant for the wheelchair-using Hague" which doesn't make much sense as a metaphor in the first place, and only makes sense as a negative metaphor if people with disabilities (or their assistants) are seen as bad (which, of course, ableism means that they are) either generically or specifically in terms of running the country.

That latter message, of course, is the only one that people not familiar with the show would get. Knowing the show doesn't make it any better, of course.

This is the letter I've sent to my local Labour candidate.

Dear [candidate],

Today I saw Labour's recently released "They'll turn Great Britain into Little Britain" poster. I was very disappointed to see Labour releasing this poster, which relies very strongly on negative stereotypes about disability to make its point.

The characters from the Little Britain show are themselves negative stereotypes of disability, using the very common and pernicious stereotypes of disabled people as "faking it", or as unintelligent. As you are aware, these attitudes are very harmful to people with disabilities, and it is extremely distasteful for Labour to make use of them in its publicity.

Furthermore, there is the added message - and the only one that people unfamiliar with the show will see - that people with disabilities and their assistants are considered unsuitable to run the country or be an international presence.

The use of negative stereotypes about under-represented and under-privileged groups is a common tactic in political campaigning, but not one that a party that claims to be "determined that the UK should always be a world leader in disability rights" should have any use for. The use of posters such as these puts your party's sincerity in that respect into serious doubt.

Will you, as Labour candidate for [constituency]:

  1. Ensure that these posters are not used in any form in campaigning in this consituency, and disavow this style of campaigning in general?
  2. Encourage your fellow candidates to do likewise?
  3. Strongly pressure the Labour party centrally to completely abandon these posters, to release a full and sincere apology for having produced them, and to commit to never doing the same again?

Yours sincerely,

This is the one I've sent to the Labour party itself, using their contact form.

Dear Labour Party,

[first four paragraphs the same as the other letter]

Will you:

  1. Completely withdraw the posters and any related publicity from use, with immediate effect?
  2. Make a full and sincere public apology to all of the people for whom the reinforcement of negative stereotypes by these posters has caused harm?
  3. Put in place consistent and effective procedures to make sure that future Labour publicity does not rely on or use negative stereotypes about people with disabilities?

Yours faithfully,

In the event that I get a reply, I'll post it.

1 Gordon Brown used this line in the "international issues" leaders' TV debate roughly simultaneously with the launch of this poster. Clearly it's all planned to fit together, should they try to sidle away and blame it on a "rogue marketing employee" or some such.

Edit: 19:40 23 April

Well, that didn't take long. The link on the Labour website now goes to an error page. For now you can still see the poster on Left Foot Forward (who approve of it, just to warn you). Now, what about the apology and the procedures?