When it comes to political advertising, Britain’s MPs are at best,
ambivalent, at worst downright hypocritical. Regulation is fine - as
long as it does not apply to them.
Small wonder, therefore, that industry regulators want to wash their
hands of it. However, it’s highly questionable whether their proposal to
dump the problem into the lap of an independent electoral commission is
The current rules are a dog’s breakfast, requiring political parties to
conform to the codes on taste and decency, as all other advertisers must
do, but exempting them from having to prove their claims.
Political advertising is impossible to police and, by consulting with
the main parties, the Committee of Advertising Practice has given the
impression that it can. If Labour produces a contentious poster claiming
to have reduced unemployment by a million, the Advertising Standards
Authority has no means of making a credible ruling.
It’s a difficult issue, one that has split even Campaign’s
Of course, there is a risk that, by relinquishing its political
advertising remit, the CAP will be seen to have no stomach for a fight
and this undermines the self-regulatory system’s status.
Better risking that, though, than having the ASA dragged into battles it
can never win and where the sheer volume of complaints can only
An electoral commission isn’t likely to fare any better than the ASA and
should leave the issue alone. Political advertising should be
This is because the consumer cynicism for political advertising
outstrips that for any other. What’s more, the victims of a political ad
can defend themselves in ways denied to any other advertiser subjected
to ’knocking copy’.