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While Conservative and Labour politicians are busy campaigning for the forthcoming general election, supporters of both parties have armed themselves with Photoshop and engaged in a battle on the Internet. Such is the level of online activity, it's been hailed as "the first e-election" in Britain. Will David Cameron and Gordon Brown have their fates sealed by Web users?

Labour's beleaguered prime minister, Gordon Brown, is set against new-toff-on-the-block Tory leader David Cameron. The gap between the two in opinion polls has narrowed over the past two months, with the most recent survey suggesting neither party will win an overall majority.

Neither of the two candidates for prime minister is viewed particularly favourably by the public. A former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Brown is considered an emotionless brute. Eton-educated Cameron, on the other hand, is regarded by many as an out-of-touch snob. What both men do seem capable of, is arousing hostility.

The Photoshop battle began in January after Cameron's Conservative Party made the unlikely decision of posting its leader's face on 759 billboards across the country. The image looked heavily airbrushed and it didn't take long for one Web user to post a spoof on a website that he called - "Airburshed for change". An instant hit, the site was soon flooded with similar mock-ups (1,200 posters in the first six weeks) and has become one of the most talked about features of the online campaign.

“Voters do not take David Cameron seriously and lampoon him rather than discuss the issues raised in the posters”

Sonia Gable is a political activist from London. She's deputy editor of the anti-fascist magazine, Searchlight.

Many people have become disillusioned with politics, resulting in a growing number of people not voting [in the 2005 general election, the abstention rate was 38.6%]. Any new way of reaching out to people and getting a political message across can only be a good thing.

Websites and social media democratise politics because anyone can set up a site, blog or social media page. It is a means of spreading messages that are not controlled by the political parties themselves or by the major media outlets. Using modern means of communication does not replace traditional forms of campaigning - the parties still distribute leaflets and produce set-piece TV broadcasts - but it complements them.

In any case, in a democracy that embraces freedom of speech, it is inevitable and right that people will come up with ways of communicating their beliefs. If people do not like a website they don't have to look at it. Blogs and websites that are boring or unpopular will not be read; those that are interesting will be read and sometimes become influential.

In the end, though, the means a political party uses to communicate its message is only the wrapping; it is what the party says that matters. The Photoshopped David Cameron posters took off because the original Tory posters were trite. Voters do not take David Cameron seriously and lampoon him rather than discuss the issues raised in the posters."

“Airbrushed for change”

 The original

Launched on 5 January 2010 by the Conservative Party, along with the slogan "Year for change".


The spoofs

Referring to the Tory party's major donor and awarded peer Lord Ashcroft, who has been revealed as having non-domicile tax status (which goes against donation regulations). 


The "death tax" poster 

On 9 February the Tories launched a new billboard campaign tackling Labour's "death tax", a compulsory £20,000 (€22,200) inheritance tax to fund elderly care.

It was snapped up by, with some of the responses comparing Cameron's approach with the former hard-fisted Tory leader and prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.


The "I've never voted Tory before" poster

Despite the attacks, just under a week later the Tories dared to launch a new campaign. The posters began dangerously: "I've never voted Tory before, but..." Here's one of them:

With yet more material to work with, took to the task of making a mockery out of it. One example in response to the poster above:

Referring to the fox hunting ban, which the Tories promise to repeal if they come into power.


The Tories fight back

Over a month after appeared, one of Cameron's supporters finally got round to a much needed counterattack. On 17 February, "mylabourposters'sblog" was launched. Unfortunately for eager Tory fans, the Labour party hasn't produced any billboards for this year's campaign, meaning that they had to rely on a new format. The subject was decided as "I've never voted Labour before...".    

Referring to Labour's approach to Greece's financial crisis, which conservatives deem too soft.

It was Labour that introduced 24-hour alcohol licenses; a move opposed by the Tories.

The Conservative Party promises strict anti-immigration laws.

The conservatives plan to demote European laws in the UK if they come to power.