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Romney Steals Thatcher's "Labour Isn't Working" Campaign Strategy

April 20, 2012

In Ohio this week, Mitt Romney stood before a banner reading "Obama Isn't Working" and blamed the President for the shuttered plant he used as a backdrop. As it turns out, there are only two problems with this picture. Sadly for Romney, the drywall firm in question closed in June 2008 when George W. Bush was still comfortably ensconced in the White House. And as it turns out, Mitt's entire "Obama Isn't Working" theme has been lifted lock, stock and barrel from Margaret Thatcher's 1979 campaign in the UK.
The Romney camp's plagiarism first became apparent last June, when David Weigel, E.J. Dionne and others noticed the famous Tory poster. Famous, that is, because the "Labour Isn't Working" image wasn't merely the "poster that won the election" of 1979. Twenty years later, the poster was named by trade magazine Campaign as the "advert of the century." On June 24, 2011, Mitt Romney's team acknowledged the theft of the Saatchi and Saatchi classic, portraying its punless forgery instead as a "Tribute to 'Labour Isn't Working'":

The image pointed to Britain's economic climate of rising unemployment, rising inflation, and a large and growing national debt. Those conditions and the public discontent throughout the country during that election and the parallels that Americans face today cannot be ignored. With unemployment rising from 3.6% in 1974 to 5.3% in 1979, the British knew there was a problem. Now, America faces 9.1% unemployment, record deficits, a soaring national debt, and millions of struggling families. One thing is clear - Obama isn't working, either.

As it turns out, it is Team Romney which isn't very hard-working. Echoing the recycled talking points Mitt delivers in person, the Romney for President campaign launched an Obama Isn't Working web site featuring the same pilfered art work. And as the BBC reported back in 2001, the original ad was itself a pre-Photoshop era fraud. As Martyn Walsh of Saatchi and Saatchi admitted:

Immediately there was a problem. Instead of the 100 volunteers promised to the ad's designer, Martyn Walsh of Saatchi and Saatchi, fewer than 20 turned up - far too few to create the desired effect...
Walsh then hit upon the idea of photographing the same group of people over and over and then striping the photos together back in his studio...
"Because of budget we could not use a lot of extras," Walsh remembers.
"And we could not use the real unemployed. They might have objected to appearing in Tory publicity. We wanted people who would not object - which is why we used the Young Tories. But we still made them sign a form to say they wouldn't sue us if they didn't like the result."

Eleven years ago, the BBC concluded that the "'epoch-making' poster was a clever fake." Not unlike Mitt Romney, the man who is trying to repeat history with it now.

Pablo Picasso once declared that "bad artists copy, good artists steal." Americans will soon find out which is true of politician Mitt Romney. Meanwhile in Lorain, Ohio this week, Romney pledged:

"If I'm president of the United States, with your help, I will tell the truth, I will live with integrity and provide honor in the White House."

He's got to start some time. Because what Mitt Romney's doing now isn't working.
UPDATE: It's worth noting the irony that Joe Biden dropped out of the 1988 presidential race after admitting he stole passages from the leader of the UK Labour Party, Neil Kinnock.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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