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Tuesday, 29 May, 2001, 18:35 GMT 19:35 UK
Labour's rib-tickler
Labour election poster
Labour give William Hague a makeover
Mark Mardell

Laugh and the world laughs with you. That's what Labour hopes with their latest poster campaign.

It works.

Late for the news conference I squeezed myself into a seat in the back row, dropping notes, pens and muttering "sorry, sorry".

With half a glance I'd taken in the smallish poster on the podium and thought to myself "odd they're featuring Thatcher".

Settled in my seat I took a proper look and uttered an embarrassingly loud snort of amusement.

Youth target

The poster is of William Hague's face with Lady Thatcher's hair... and earrings.

Labour claim they've thoroughly market researched the poster .. and 95% laughed. Well, at least I'm normal.

They genuinely do think that its important that people laugh. Humour engages. It makes negative campaigning more acceptable. Young people in particular take notice.

But beyond this, on first sight it is a bit bewildering.

After all they are associating a man who doesn't have much leadership experience with the woman some regard as the greatest leader the west has known since the war.

Risky?

Love her or hate her, you knew where you stood, as every taxi driver will tell you.

According to the opinion polls Mr Hague's personal ratings are low and he's unlikely to win the election.

She kept winning time after time and has so much charisma that even now there's still enough left over to make a minor TV celebrity.

So is it a risky strategy?

Not a bit of it say Labour. They claim Conservatives react to it by thinking that Mr Hague isn't half the man that she was.

Dotty

Labour voters always hated her so that's simple. And they say swing voters think she was fine for then but not for now.

This is the most intriguing contention. Labour claim - and they may be fibbing but other research indicates they're not - that Lady Thatcher, with all her glorious history is now a vote loser, seen as out of touch and a bit dotty.

Magnificent, but not the full shilling.

The sub subtext is that the conservatives are a bit ridiculous, stuck in the past. And you thought it was just a larf.

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