'LABOUR TEAM TRIES TO COOL "ANTI-SEMITIC" POSTER ROW'
By Toby Helm and Matt Born
Daily Telegraph – 2 February 2005
Alan Milburn, Labour's general election campaign leader, admitted yesterday that posters showing Michael Howard as a flying pig and as a hypnotist which some people took to be a Fagin figure left the party open to legitimate criticism. The day after the posters were withdrawn following protests from MPs and Jewish organisations, Mr Milburn insisted in the Commons that they were not "in any way, shape or form anti-Semitic".
He also defended Labour's right to attack the economic record of Mr Howard and the Tory governments of which he was a prominent member. But, sounding a conciliatory note, Mr Milburn said he respected those who had a different view and found the posters offensive.
"I fully understand and indeed respect the views of those who have concerns about any poster designs that have appeared on the Labour website."
The posters were placed on the website a fortnight ago as part of a competition for party supporters to vote for the best campaign material. They were hastily withdrawn on Monday when it was realised they had caused widespread offence.
Trevor Beattie, the chairman and creative director of TBWA, the agency that created the images, was understood to be "mortified" over the accusations of anti-Semitism. It is understood that Mr Beattie – a passionate Labour supporter – did not create the posters.
"He realises it was a mistake,"
said a friend of Mr Beattie's.
"It was unfortunate, but completely inadvertent."
Labour insiders admitted that the episode had been a setback for Mr Milburn because he had approved the posters for use a fortnight ago.
Yesterday the Tories – who suspect Labour engineered the row to win publicity for images it could then disown – accused Labour of "sly anti-Semitism". Before yesterday Mr Howard had avoided a specific charge of anti-Semitism.
But Julian Lewis, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, told MPs the posters were part of a Labour trend that began when the chairman, Ian McCartney, likened Oliver Letwin, the shadow Chancellor, to a "21st century Fagin" last year. Mr Letwin, like Mr Howard, is Jewish.
"Given the outrage that that smear caused then, how could you have thought anything other than the fact that what you were doing in reviving it in your posters was nothing more and nothing less than a calculated campaign of sly anti-Semitism,"
said Mr Lewis.
Mr Beattie's reputation for revelling in the controversy generated by his campaigns – most infamously for French Connection ("FCUK") and Wonderbra ("Or are you just pleased to see me?") – has fuelled suspicions that the row was, if not deliberate, of some benefit to Labour.
Johnny Hornby, the former managing director at TBWA, who worked on the last Labour election campaign, said:
"I have no doubt the adverts were not written with the intention of being anti-Semitic. However, the row is not without advantages for Labour. Polling shows Mr Howard is one of the Tories' weakest assets. These advertisements target him and reinforce prejudices that he's not trustworthy, that there's 'something of the night' about him."