Labour Isn't Working

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Labour Isnt Working.jpg

"Labour Isn't Working" was an advertising campaign in the United Kingdom. It was run by the Conservative Party in 1978 in anticipation that Labour Party Prime Minister James Callaghan would call a general election. It was revived for the general election campaign the next year, after the government lost a vote of no confidence in the wake of the Winter of Discontent. It was designed by advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi.[1]


The Unemployment Rate in the United Kingdom from 1971 to 2014

In 1978, unemployment was high by post-war UK standards: between 5 and 6% (though the unemployment rate has remained at or above these levels for most of the UK's subsequent history).

The poster's design was a picture of a snaking dole queue[2] outside of an unemployment office. Above it was the slogan "Labour isn't working" with the phrase "Britain's better off with the Conservatives" in a smaller text below.[3]

The picture in the poster originally planned for 100 extras to be used for the picture. However, only 20 volunteers from the Hendon Young Conservatives turned up to be photographed. The desired effect was achieved by photographing the same people repeatedly and then striping them together.[4]

The picture was used in the 1979 election campaign with the slogan "Labour still isn't working."[4]


The way the photo was taken was leaked and Labour's Denis Healey criticised it in the House of Commons, saying the people in it were not genuinely unemployed and said that the Conservatives were "selling politics like soap-powder".[4]

The campaign was a success as it was viewed as backing up the Conservatives' claims against Labour. In May 1979, the Conservatives won the election with a 43-seat majority with the party leader, Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister.[5] Conservative Party treasurer, Lord Thorneycroft claimed that the poster won the election for the Conservatives.[4] In 1999, Campaign voted the poster as the "Best Poster of the Century".[6]

Later re-uses[edit]

The poster was considered popular; similar versions of it have been released in later years in the UK. In October 2012, the Conservatives used "Labour isn't learning" in a poster in preparation for the next general election[7] and in March 2012 UK Uncut used "austerity isn't working" and recreated the picture outside Downing Street on Budget Day.[8]

In 2012 during the United States Presidential Election, the Republican Party used a copy of the poster,[9] using the slogan "Obama isn't working" instead of "Labour isn't working".[10]

In December 2013, Church Action on Poverty launched a campaign "Britain isn't eating",[11] using a modified version with the queue leading to a Food Bank.

In the 2015 UK General Election campaign, the Labour Party unveiled a very similar poster, this time highlighting A&E waiting times, with the headline "The Doctor Can't See You Now." and subtitled "The Tories Have Made It Harder To See A GP".[12]

The idea was used by UKIP in its campaign in the 2016 London mayoral election, where the intended message was against mass immigration, with a poster titled "Open Door Immigration Isn't Working", subtitled "London's Population Is Growing By One Million Every Decade".[13] UKIP used the idea again in the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, when a poster titled "Breaking Point" with the subtitle "The EU has failed us all" showed a long, snaking line of refugees waiting to come into the country.[14]

In 2020, the Daily Mirror ran the headline "Tories Aren't Testing", pairing it with a photo of a COVID-19 testing queue in London.[15][16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ McSmith, Andy (14 September 2007). "They said Labour isn't working. Now Saatchi & Saatchi works for Labour". London: The Independent. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  2. ^ metrowebukmetro (28 March 2010). "PM mocked in Tory poster campaign". Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  3. ^ "Labour isn't working (Conservative, 1979)". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d "'Epoch-making' poster was clever fake". BBC News. 16 March 2001. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  5. ^ "BBC Politics 97". BBC News. 3 May 1979. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  6. ^ Gibson, Janine (16 August 1999). "Tory advert rated poster of the century". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  7. ^ Mason, Rowena (1 October 2012). "Lord Ashcroft: Tory leaders needs to grow up after 'juvenile' anti-Miliband ad campaign". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  8. ^ John Domokos (21 March 2012). "Budget 2012 protest: UK Uncut recreates dole queue outside Downing Street". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  9. ^ "US campaign ads carry familiar echo". BBC News. 8 May 2012. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  10. ^ "Romney Stops Pulling Punches". Fox News. 26 September 2012. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  11. ^ "Britain Isn't Eating".
  12. ^ "Election 2015: Tories would give NHS 'whatever' it needs". BBC News. 7 April 2015. Retrieved 7 April 2015.
  13. ^ MIKEY SMITH (20 June 2016). "Nigel Farage blames outrage over 'disgusting' poster on 'unfortunate timing' after Jo Cox murder".
  14. ^ Dr James Morrison. "Break-point for Brexit? How UKIP's image of 'hate' set race discourse reeling back decades".
  15. ^ "Newspaper headlines: PM's 'embarrassing' test admission and schools warning". BBC News. 17 September 2020. Archived from the original on 17 September 2020. Retrieved 17 September 2020.
  16. ^ "Chaos because 'Tories aren't testing' as coronavirus rate spirals across UK". Daily Mirror. 17 September 2020. Retrieved 17 September 2020.