The pictorial politics of the shopping basket

The squeeze on household budgets is a hot topic in the news. Our ability to pay for the daily essentials, food, energy, and transport are key issues. Indeed, our increasingly shrinking disposable income extends beyond individuals and is having a detrimental effect on the recovery of the high street.

 The ability of families to afford to live has been a key issue for centuries, from the anti-corn law league to the present day. At the beginning of the 20th century, political parties produced posters claiming a vote for them was a vote for low food prices and attacking the opposition for driving the cost of living skywards. One of the great issues of the Edwardian period, Tariff Reform or Imperial Preference, centred on the issue of whether imported goods, including food, should be taxed.  

Courtesy of the People's History Museum









The street was the battle ground for pro and anti tariff reform campaigners shouting their arguments and posters were key to their campaigns. The Imperial Tariff Committee published the above poster sometime after 1903. In the left hand image, tariff reform provides for a happy family and well stock cupboard, the family on the right is destitute under free trade. This was before the advent of women’s suffrage in 1918 and the poster implores men to vote for tariff reform for the benefit of their family.

 After the equal franchise act of 1928, both Labour and the Conservatives appealed to new female voters on the issue of food prices. In one Conservative poster from the election of 1929 (below) a young modish women contemplates what the “tea leaves say” as the party implore her to do her duty.










The Conservatives had abolished the tax on tea, a populist act, designed specifically at attracting women voters. A Labour poster from the same election depicted a woman holding a shopping basket rejoicing in taxes taken off food.

Courtesy of the People's History Museum











The politics of the shopping basket continued into the post war period. A Conservative poster from 1955 (sorry I couldn’t source this image) depicted a queue of women holding baskets. The poster stated that women should vote Conservative unless they wanted a return to rationing, which had ended in 1954. As late as 1973, Labour based its appeal to housewives on the cost of food; the shopping basket ever present.


Courtesy of the People's History Museum












Many of these posters conflate women as domestic budget holders, but that’s for a later poster. Importantly, if household budgets continue to be squeezed the issue of food prizes may be a key one at the next election. It remains to be seen how party propaganda might highlight this.