You couldn’t make this story up. If it hasn’t already arrived, you might soon be getting a copy of the Shropshire Conservative manifesto through your letterbox. Most of us would think that the banner photograph on the front page of the manifesto is of thirteen Tory activists or supporters. But look carefully. It took me a while to spot what is wrong with the photograph. Then it clicked.
After that light bulb moment, it took me just minutes to discover that the image is not of Shropshire supporters at all. Not even of Tory supporters. The photograph has been lifted from an Australian mental health charity website.
Something troubled me about the photograph when I first saw the manifesto. I just couldn’t place it but it didn’t look right. I could not get this out of mind, even though I couldn’t work out what was wrong with the image.
After a long night writing, I ended up messing around online while I made up my mind whether to go to bed or walk the dog (the dog won!). It is often the case that a tired mind spots things that are hidden by an excess of concentration during the working day. Around 5am, I snapped back from dozing into action.
The problem with the photograph is simple. It shows 13 people, 12 of whom are women. This is a political photograph. Unless you are illustrating a particular point or writing about a specific group, us political types try to aim for a gender balance in images. The banner photo on the Ludlow Conservatives website is a perfect example of this.
My suspicions roused, I explored a high resolution copy of the manifesto photograph. In one woman’s hand is a can of Xero. As far as I can tell, we don’t sell that in the UK. There were other niggling points about the image too. The Tories are good at photographs and this seemed more like a snapshot of a volunteer group than a political photo of supporters or activists.
It was time for a reverse image search. I have never tried this before but it proved both easy and informative. I uploaded a snapshot of the Shropshire Conservative manifesto. Goggle told me its source.
The image proves to be a staff photo for the excellent mental health charity Grow. It’s based in Queensland. The photo, of Queensland and Tasmanian staff, was taken on 28 June 2013.
I am really shocked by this. The first rule in an election period is that all literature must be honest. Putting aside any legalities, using a photograph for political purposes of a hard-working group of mental health staff in Queensland is a low trick.
I cannot work out what was in the Conservatives’ minds when they decided to use this photograph. Even if a designer had used it unwisely, surely the leaders who signed off the manifesto would have noticed that the image was out of place? But evidently not.
This about more than an image. It is about integrity. If the Conservatives head up their manifesto with a falsehood, how can anyone believe anything else the document contains?
Shropshire Conservatives cannot continue to distribute this leaflet now that it has been found to feature a photograph lifted from the Internet. They should shred all remaining copies.
The Conservatives should also apologise to Grow. They should make a donation to the charity in recompense for the unauthorised use of an image of its dedicated staff.
And they should apologise to the people of Shropshire for a blatant disregard of the truth.
Since this article was published, Shropshire Conservatives have withdrawn the printed and online versions of the manifesto.