Which is hotter? A scantily clad model in a red bikini or the new Piri Piri Chicken Pot Noodle?

The ADgenda: The ASA recently banned a Unilever advert. But they missed a spot.

Which is hotter? A scantily clad model in a red bikini or the new Piri Piri Chicken Pot Noodle? It was this question in a Facebook advert that landed Unilever in hot water recently and resulted in the ad being banning by the Advertising Standards Authority.

But yet at the same time a video, that was part of the same campaign, escaped punishment. It follows the bus journey of a man, frustrated with the lack of spice in his life, who picks up a pot noodle and miraculously finds himself face to face with a dancing woman. As our man begins to get excited, the girl pulls off her top but, much to the Pot Noodle eater’s chagrin, turns into a rather dishevelled man. So what’s the difference?

The ASA do give their reasons for damning one and allowing the other.  They claim the former is unacceptable because of "the presentation of the woman in a sexual pose". The latter passes the test, however, because "the female character was not presented in sexist or degrading way". But yet, whether or not the woman has clothes off or not, surely the sentiment is the same. The Piri Piri Pot Noodle = stripping/stripped woman. If this is the case, it is the fact that the woman is in a bikini and not fully clothed that got the advert banned.

But what is confusing is that another reason the ASA gave for banning the first advert was that "the blatant comparison with the food product was crass and degrading and therefore likely to cause serious offence to some visitors to Pot Noodle Facebook page." This seems to imply that the video advert does not imply a comparison with the food product. But the ASA says that the video is fine because we are aware of the "reality of the situation and that it was actually a man with whom the main character was flirting". But, surely, a realisation of this also means that we should draw a comparison between the food and the woman.

The banned advert simply makes explicit what the allowed advert implies. Banning one advert and not the other, then, serves to reveal that the content of the acceptable advert, when followed to its logical conclusion, is unacceptable. The ASA has contradicted itself.

All in all, this ASA ruling seems to follow a common trend. Explicit bad, implicit fine. Either the ASA should have allowed the comparison to stand, or it should have banned both. As it is, it has skirted the central issue.  

A still from the Unilever advert. Photograph: Getty Images
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To win power, Labour needs to start talking about giving it away

From the House of Lords to First Past the Post, the Labour Party must seek reforms to return power to the people.

The signs were there in 2010. The British electorate failed to give any single party a majority in the Commons, delivering what amounted to a vote of no confidence in Westminster. Since then, voters have taken every opportunity to inform to those sitting on the green benches that they are not content.

The independence referendum in Scotland was closer than many had predicted. The Labour leadership election [in 2015] brought another rejection of the Westminster way of doing things when hundreds of thousands joined the party to elect a leader who opposed the New Labour platform. But David Cameron assumed that the Conservative Party was immune to this spirit of insurgency. Confident that he and his chums could convince the electorate of the wisdom of EU membership, despite decades of anti-Brussels headlines, he rashly called a referendum without considering the implications of defeat.

As with the election of Jeremy Corbyn, those who felt that their voice was no longer heard at Westminster saw the referendum as an opportunity to have their say. Driven by a dispiriting sense that they had lost control of their fate, to the extent that they felt this was no longer their country, they voted to make the rest of us feel the same.

The urge to dismiss this as nothing more than spite should be resisted. These voters feel vulnerable. If we are to believe the majority of them when they say they are not racists – and I do – then we must accept that their complaints about immigration mask other concerns. My hunch is that if they were asked to rank security of employment, of housing and of health care in order of importance, each of these would be a higher priority than security of our borders. And the terrible irony is that a Brexit driven by free-market libertarians is likely to create an economy that is even less secure for low-paid workers and those who rely on support from the state.

If the Labour Party hopes to engage with those vulnerable voters, it needs to win back trust by first showing that it trusts the people. Labour should make accountability its watchword, giving all employees statutory rights, especially those kept on precarious terms by profiteering corporations. A reformed voting system would stop parties listening only to the voices of those living in key marginals. A democratic upper house would offer another opportunity for engaging with people from beyond the Westminster bubble. Devolving power to the English regions, giving them the final say over housing, employment and health care, would allow voters to take back control over their lives and also create a better balance between London and the rest of the country.

To win power, Labour first needs to start talking about giving it away.

Billy Bragg is a musician and campaigner

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition