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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 April 2005, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK
Manifesto designs under the microscope
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News politics reporter

They may have been criticised for having similar policies, but nobody could accuse the Conservatives, Labour or Liberal Democrats of stealing each other's manifesto designs.

Number of pages:
Labour: 112
Tory: 28
Lib Dem: 20
Labour: 1
Tory: 23
Lib Dem: 38
Word count:
Labour: 23,000
Tory: 7,000
Lib Dem: 16,000
Labour: 0.096kg
Tory: 0.178kg
Lib Dem: 0.07kg
Labour: 2.50
Tory: 2.50
Lib Dem: Free

Both the Labour and Conservative have neglected to feature a picture of the party leader on its cover - but that is where the similarity ends.

It is almost as if the two publications have been produced for entirely different readerships - which, in a way, they have.

The Liberal Democrats do feature Charles Kennedy on the cover of their manifesto but its tabloid newspaper design sets it apart - for better or worse - from the other two.

So what's going on?

Michael Howard has defended the relative slimness of the Conservatives' 28-page brochure by saying he "actually wants people to read it".

It is certainly the most eye-catching design of the two.

The party have gone for a DIY look. The handwritten list of their priorities on the cover is clearly meant to feel authentic and "real" - the sort of thing that might have been hastily Xeroxed by an angry member of Mr Howard's "forgotten majority".

But inside it is a very slickly produced piece of work. There are acres of white space, and lots of tasteful colour photography.

Michael Howard
Mr Howard says he wants people to read his manifesto
It is also unbranded. You have to study the cover to discover what it is - never mind that it belongs to the Conservative Party.

It is full of visual hooks and emotional triggers to pull the casual reader in - there are CCTV stills of a woman being mugged and pictures of X-rays to illustrate the section on health.

It is as apolitical in design as it can be without becoming something other than a party manifesto.

Apart from the monochrome picture of Mr Howard on page one, there are no pictures of politicians.

Most computers will open PDF documents automatically, but you may need to download Adobe Acrobat Reader.
Labour, on the other hand, has produced something that is very recognisably political.

It is red and it has Labour's election slogan, Britain forward not back, on the front - twice.

It is a conscious throwback to socialist manifestos of the past, perhaps even a deliberate echo of Chairman Mao's "little red book".

'Pull quotes'

It looks like the sort of book a shop steward might wave in the face of a boss before calling everyone out on strike.

Apart from a picture of Mr Blair, it is all closely-packed text and it only uses one colour - red.

Tony Blair
Mr Blair's little red book can fit into a back pocket
Unlike the Conservatives, whose right hand pages are given over to glossy reproductions of their campaign slogans, the "pull quotes" are wordy and detailed.

It has 112 pages and nine chapters.

The whole thing seems designed to reassure Labour's core support - the people it needs to turn out and vote on 5 May - that it is full of traditional Labour values.

It does not seem designed to appeal to the casual browser.

Most computers will open PDF documents automatically, but you may need to download Adobe Acrobat Reader.
But it does allow Mr Blair to accuse the Tories of being lightweight and short on detail - too obsessed with "emotion" over content.

Both manifestos will cost you 2.50 to buy in the shops - but neither is likely to trouble the bestseller lists.

Apart from anything else, they are available to download for free from the parties' websites.

Low budget

The Liberal Democrats have taken a different approach again - opting for the tried and tested tabloid newspaper format which has served them well in by-elections and local council contests over the years.

Charles Kennedy
Mr Kennedy shows off his party's manifesto
It is a more low-budget proposition than either the Conservative or Labour documents - and it is, perhaps, not sufficiently different from other party communications to prevent it from going straight into the waste paper bin.

Its layout and design are more like a traditional party manifesto. There are lots of smiling pictures of Lib Dem frontbenchers, including no less than 10 of party leader Charles Kennedy.

But the cover shot sees him surrounded - not by his front bench team - but a carefully-selected group of voters representing "modern Britain".

Mr Kennedy - unlike the other two leaders - is evidently seen as his party's most-marketable asset.



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