Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Election Photographs

There is a famous story about a Labour Candidate on the occasion of a long forgotten local government landslide confiding to the battle hardened local Party Election Agent that he didn't know what he would do if he was elected. "Listen, son" came the reply "if there is any chance we would win this seat, there is no way we would have had you as the candidate."

No hope candidates, prepared to carry the Party colours onto the most hopeless of battlefields, play an important part in our democracy. Some do so in the hope of gaining experience while on their way to fame and fortune in more welcoming future territory, others regrettably only to enjoy a brief moment of prominence before disappearing back into the obscurity from which they had momentarily emerged.

But all must, in the process, have an election photograph taken.

I am prompted to these thoughts by the leaflet delivered to me today by the local SNP. This seat is what, under STV, is becoming known as a 2-1. We get pretty certainly 2 and they, equally certainly, get the other 1. But they need a hypothetical 2 even if we are not sufficiently arrogant to risk a 3.

So the SNP have a young man running alongside their local incumbent.

He seems very enthusiastic, although when he claims to have been, personally, the SNP's 16,000th member, you can't help feeling that there are probably a number of other, equally enthusiastic youths, making equally sincere claims elsewhere in Scotland, in much the same ways as a remarkable number of mediaeval Italian Cathedrals each claimed to be in the unique possession of the head of John the Baptist.

I've promised however not to blog about politics proper until May 4th, so I want to talk instead about his election photograph.

Speaking as someone unlikely ever to feature in any Labour Hunk calendar, even I cannot believe anybody is that ugly. I cannot believe it because it cannot be true. He has been the victim of the election photographer. Such a creature is the curse of every political party.

When I was first active in the Labour Party in Paisley, our photographer was a man called John Bradley. Mr Bradley was not known for his talents of composition, although he was regarded as a bohemian character, and thus presumably "artistic", by reason of his maintaining two wives at different locations. This information appeared to be common knowledge to the entire population of Paisley, excepting, apparently, the ladies themselves. Thus, if you required an urgent election photograph you phoned one number and if told John was not at home, you simply phoned the alternative.

It was perhaps this method of living, or perhaps a misguided Labour party photographers training school that   appeared to have persuaded Paisley's answer to David Bailey that, in order to portray the candidate as a man of action, he need invariably be portrayed with a phone clamped to his ear. Perhaps this was meant to convey a subliminal message that, if elected, the candidate would always answer the phone, but, particularly in election literature for elections involving more than one candidate, it could give the unintended impression that the Labour nominees were so aligned that, as captured on film, they were at that very moment in communication with each other. Albeit from a distance.

But that was not the most bizarre experience that I had of political photography. In 1994, when John Smith died, I pursued the Labour nomination in his Airdrie seat. The contest was called on a very short timescale and since there was a Party event between the shortlisting and the selection, at that event, all three shortlisted candidates had official photographs taken with Margaret Beckett, the acting leader, and George Robertson, the Shadow Secretary of State. As is now known, victory fell to La Belle Helene but after the event I thought it would, nonetheless, be nice to have these photographs for some future "I coulda been a contender" archive. I accordingly phoned Keir Hardie House. "No" was the response. "C'mon don't be ridiculous" I persisted. "They've been destroyed" the eventual answer. Such was the Party mentality that the possibility that anyone but Helen had ever been considered as the Labour nominee had had to be expunged from the official record. And people criticise Stalin's Russia.

My worst story of all however does not feature a Party volunteer at all but rather a paid up professional working for the Evening Times. In 1992, Labour's banner in West Renfrewshire was carried by Tommy Graham, who not even Annie Leibovitz could have made appealing to the eye. Tommy however presumably thought that he might attract a little glamour by association so, when encountering a long term acquaintance in Linwood's St Brendan's Club, and learning that the acquaintance's daughter was a Miss Scotland finalist, Tommy was immediately seized with the mutual advantage of there being photographed together.

Thus it was that 20 stone Tommy, grinning through such teeth as he had, featured on the Front page of the first edition of the Evening Times standing outside the AEU Halls in Incle Street, Paisley during March 1992 next to a young lady wearing nothing but a bikini and a Labour rosette.

Now the Levenson inquiry has featured on an unhealthy relationship between politicians and the press. It is a great pity however that the inquiry will never have the opportunity to inquire as to the promises of future exclusives and other favours Labour had to make on this occasion before the Times Editor was persuaded to pull the photograph from later editions.

So. my advice to all politicians of all Parties is: Avoid the camera. If only elections could be fought entirely on the radio.

No comments:

Post a Comment