We in the Irish Examiner published a story yesterday about the new Fine Gael billboard campaign that employs the módh díreach with a direct attack on Michael McDowell. It's not the first time that FG have used negative type campaigns since 2002 and most of it seems to be directed at the PDs - obviously, they will be fishing for votes out of the same pool.
Just over a year ago, they used a great image of Bertie Ahern and Mary Harney. The scene looked like a restarant or a bar. Both of them were looking away from each other, like a married couple who were drifting apart. I think the slogan referred to the spark being gone.
They also had a couple of cartoonish type posters zeroing in on Harney, McDowell and Tom Parlon... the Parlon one portrayed Mr Delivery as a cowboy in the Marlboro man/TJ Dallas mode.
The previous ones were humourous. But the McDowell poster is more cutting, more direct. The story has sparked off a huge debate about the benefits or otherwise of negative campaigns and attack advertising in politics.
It has long been a standard feature of the stumps in the US and has also been used to mixed effect in Britain - the one that comes to mind is the Tony Blair 'Demon Eyes' posters used by the Tories in the 1997 election campaign (it didn't get them very far). Negativity can work despite what focus groups say, but only in the following contexts.
1. Best for leader to stay above the fray
2. Must be counterbalanced by positive messages and vision
3. There must be some basis to justify the fears that are being raised.
Will it be a dirty campaign? They are all dirty in their own ways. The Queensbury Rules of politics are only really observed in that moratorium period in the last 24 hours. In a way I hope it is. Because boy, have we hit the doldrums in the past year.