In the 2015 British election, leaders of both the main parties spent a lot of time on photo opportunities that tried to show they were down-to-earth, common men who ate regular food. I guess having a potential premier who can eat a bacon and egg butty like a regular working-class guy is the end-goal of British politics. Not that I mean to mock, because after all, Canadian politicians are tripping over themselves this summer to trumpet the “middle class,” whoever they are
But the Brits take their photo opps very, very seriously, and it seems the sandwich thing got out of hand in the recent election campaign. First, the sitting prime minister, Conservative David Cameron, was mocked for eating a hot dog with a knife and fork.
Then, the Labour Leader Ed Milliband was severely mocked for his inability to eat a bacon and egg sarny without looking like a fool.
Then Cameron, mocked again, for handing his wife a knife and fork before eating a bacon and egg sandwich themselves.
It seems being able to eat a sandwich with only your hands is a necessary skill to lead the British people. And then there was the photo (above) of Cameron reading to school children, when the young lady had enough and put her head on the table. That didn’t look good for Cameron either.
But frankly, all this photo opp back and forth showed is that it is very easy to make a politician look silly in photos, especially during campaign times. As one writer at the Guardian newspaper suggested, perhaps we should ban photo opportunities entirely until after the election:Let’s literally go dark for a month before the election. No pictures, no videos, only policies.”
But then what would tabloid editors and editorial cartoonists do?
By the way, the Conservatives won the election, so maybe sleeping kids and knives and forks are better than looking awkward while chewing.
Making fun of politicians is a time-honoured tradition. It’s what keeps editorial cartoonists in business. Many photographers, illustrators and reporters spend a lot of brain power trying to find ways to embarrass politicians, especially when on the campaign trail during an election. Most political PR people try very hard to avoid embarrassing photo opps or gaffes, but some just didn’t learn their lesson.
Back in 1997, Gilles Duceppe was the leader of Canada’s Bloc Québecois, a sovereignist party (i.e. supporting the separation of Quebec from the rest of Canada) working at the federal level. The Bloc was running candidates only in Quebec’s seventy-five federal ridings, and this was Duceppe’s first federal election campaign as leader. The Bloc’s poor organization as well as its leader’s inexperience were much in the news at the time, and affected the party’s overall performance (they only won 44 seats, ten less than they had before the election).
In the middle of the election campaign, Gilles Duceppe visited an agro-business factory that produces cheese. All visitors are required by law to wear a hairnet while on the premises, so of course Duceppe donned a hairnet too, with photographers following him. Duceppe looked particularly funny in his hairnet, and was much ridiculed for it.
(Translation) Duceppe visits a cheese factory “…And tomorrow I’m going to visit a condom factory. Don’t miss that!”
In fact, it became a symbol of how silly the Bloc’s campaign and organization were in the election. The Globe and Mail described the hairnet as “a very goofy-looking rubber headgear” that made Duceppe “an early favourite for the Award for Most Preposterous Photo-Op of the Campaign.” Duceppe fired his campaign manager, press liaison and media bus co-ordinator shortly after the cheese factory incident.
And that photo haunts Gilles Duceppe to this day. But he did go on to lead the party for more than a decade after that election, so it wasn’t all bad.