Heir of Blair 2

Nine posters featuring Boris pledges

The Boris campaign launched a series of posters this week. There are nine examples in the group and each feature a different pledge from the Mayor’s nine-part plan. At the bottom of each poster is a picture of Boris. Johnson has always presented himself as slightly dishevelled, which does separate him from his glossy Westminster cousins. In this respect his method is not unlike Harold Wilson whose Gannex wearing, pipe smoking, affability marked him out against the aristocratic Douglas- Home or the taciturn Ted Heath.

However, the new Boris posters take something from Labour’s 1997 campaign. Then the party famously handed out pledge cards to the electorate.

1997 New Labour pledge card

Benedict Pringle over at political advertisingis not a huge fan of the new Johnson posters; they are phenomenally uninspiring, dull even. But it is interesting to note that just as in 2010 when David Cameron sought to present himself politically and stylistically as Blair, Johnson is also borrowing techniques from that 1997 campaign.

Of course, Johnson and Cameron are very different characters. But Johnson’s pledges demonstrate another senior Conservative seemingly in thrall to the techniques of New Labour circa 1997.



In conjunction with the Picturing Politics exhibition I’m organising a conference to be held on the 14th June. If you fancy submitting a paper proposal, here is the Call For Papers.

Parties, People and Elections: Political Communication since 1900: Call for Papers

 Date: 14th June 2012

Location: People’s History Museum, Manchester

 The way politicians talk to the people, and how they do so has undergone a dramatic change since 1900. The demise of the mass platform, the birth of radio, cinema and television, and the advent of new social media, has radically reshaped how parties and people interact. Furthermore, increased centralisation, ‘professionalisation’ and the use of experts schooled in the techniques of advertising have all affected what parties say and how they say it.    

 The conference, sponsored by the Centre for British Politics at the University of Nottingham, will explore how parties spoke to the people. It will analyse what these communications looked like, and what (if any) impact they had on the people. The conference aims to be inter-disciplinary and we invite papers from those working in the fields of history, political science, political communication, cultural studies, and art history. In addition to the academic content, the conference aims to include advertising executives and politicians who have participated in past election campaigns.

 Confirmed participants include Professor Jim Aulich (Manchester Metropolitan University), Dr Stuart Ball (University of Leicester), Graham Deakin (Advertising executive), Dr Jon Lawrence (University of Cambridge), Dr Nicholas Mansfield (UCLan), Dr Mark Pack (former Head of Innovations at the Liberal Democrats, www.markpack.org.uk), Benedict Pringle (advertising executive www.politicaladvertising.co.uk ), Dr David Thackeray (University of Exeter), Dr James Thompson (University of Bristol), Dr Dominic Wring (University of Loughborough)

 The conference complements the exhibition Picturing Politics: Exploring the Election Poster in Britain at the People’s History Museum Manchester, 12th November 2011 – 17th June 2012.

 Please contact Chris Burgess to submit abstracts (250 words) by 2nd April 2012, or for further details ldxcb7@nottingham.ac.uk

The Exhibition is open!

The exhibition Picturing Politics was opened on Friday night by Times columnist Matthew Parris, who gave a great speech. Just before it opened I wrote a blog for the Nottingham University Politics department blog Ballots and Bullets, on the ten things the exhibitions tells us. You can find it here. Details about the exhibition can be found on the People’s History Museum website.

When does an idea become an ideal?

I have just been writing the label for this 1970 poster, which we are including in the exhibition. Also going in the show is the original design, which you can see below.

Courtesy of the People's History Museum

There was one significant change between design and final object. On the initial proposal, they used the word ‘idea’. However, on the final product they chose instead the adjective ‘ideal’. Why change? Of course, it could have been a mistake in the first draft. Alternatively, the party could also have intended that the change strengthen the posters message.

The OED defines an ‘Idea’ as “a thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action” and an ‘Ideal’ as “satisfying one’s conception of what is perfect” or “existing only in the imagination; desirable or perfect but not likely to become a reality”

In 1969 Labour had extended the lowest voting age from 21 to 18. During the election a year later, for which Labour produced the poster, they went all out to win these new voters. The change from idea to ideal could have been to strengthen the message to the new voter. With the term idea, it suggests Labour shared with the nations young possible solutions to make Britain better. But using ideal, the poster proposes that Labour’s core beliefs of what society could or should be were the same as Britain’s youth. The change, I argue, is therefore more than superficial.

Think of the children – Vote for them

Obviously children can’t vote, yet they have been a consistent feature of posters since the 1900s. During the first half of the 20th century, artists used children to represent voters. Suggesting perhaps that their was a belief the electorate were a naive  body which needed protecting. This changed when women could vote, as children became a symbol to suggest that mothers should vote on behalf of their offspring. The visual link between Fatherhood and elections was less strong.

Budget Protest League poster 1910
Courtesy of the People's History Museum

In this rather marvellous poster from 1910 – which is going on display for the first time, in the exhibition – the artist drew both the ‘People’ and ‘The House of Lords’ as babies. Despite having sufficient milk of their own, the Peers steal the milk from the smaller, somewhat under-nourished, population.

In SAVE THE CHILDREN FROM TARIFF REFORM the child-as-voter metaphor is not so obvious. But there is still a hint that the children represent the whole of society. The shopping basket  an indication that Tariff Reform (the taxing of imported goods) would affect the whole of family life. The poster retells the story of Little Riding Hood. Top hats and spats represent politicians or capitalists, who take the place of the wolf in the fairytale. In this image it is not the hunter that will save Red Riding Hood but the audience of the poster – the voters of 1910.

Courtesy of the People's History Museum

A change took place in the depiction of children after women received the vote. Poster artists used infants to appeal to women, as posters suggested that good motherhood extended to how they cast their vote. Gerald Spencer Pryse’s 1918 example MOTHERS VOTE LABOUR was an early example.

Courtesy of the People's History Museum

Appealing to women on behalf of their children continued during the election of 2010. As both the Conservative and Labour parties produced posters which suggested that women’s ultimate consideration at the ballot box should be their children.

Labour election poster 2010

Ceci n’est pas une pipe: It’s a politician

The Treachery of Images
In his work The Treachery of Images Rene Magritte questioned whether his painting was an actual pipe, or an image of one. When looking for posters to use in the exhibition this Labour example turned up.
1966 Labour election poster. Courtesy of the People's History Museum
Here the pipe is not a pipe it is Harold Wilson. Produced in 1966, such was Wilson’s reputation as the pipe-smoking politician that there was no need to include the then prime-minister name or image. Furthermore, the pipe did not simply stand for Wilson, but also for what Wilson stood for. The pipe was a symbol of trustworthiness, and if the cigar – which Wilson preferred to smoke – was a symbol of wealth and privilege, the pipe was an indication of working class, trade union intellectualism.      

Wilson wasn’t the first PM to be symbolised by the pipe. Stanley Baldwin’s name appeared on Presbyterian  mixture tobacco  and such  was Baldwin’s relationship with the evil weed David Low satirised it in his 1923 the “Pipe of prosperity”. Here Baldwin’s pipe is choked by his own protection mix tobacco.

The Pipe of Prosperity, David Low, 1923











And Low wasn’t the only cartoonist to satirize Baldwin’s pipe smoking ways. Ern Shaw, Hull cartoonist and sometime Labour party poster artist, depicted Baldwin alongside a sleazy Lloyd-George. For Shaw, Stanley’s pipe was a symbol of an outdated, and out of touch politician. Shaw and Low’s interpretation of Baldwin’s pipe smoking was, however, only one view. While some used Baldwin’s seemingly old fashioned smoking habits against him – his rival Ramsay MacDonald smoked the more modern cigarette – Conservative posters played up to the pipe as an icon of solidity and respectability; just as Labour did in 1966. In Smoke Baldwin’s Security Mixture, the Conservative took Baldwin’s endorsement of the Presbyterian mix and used for their own ends, as political imagery mimicked the commercial. In a further 1929 poster Baldwin was captain of the British ship, sucking on his pipe as he set a course for prosperity.

 In 1955, a photograph of Clement Attlee – not usually the type to appear in posters – was displayed on the hoardings across Britain. Attlee leans back in his chair, holding his pipe. The poster projected the idea of a genial, trustworthy statesman.

1955 Labour Election Poster, Courtesy of the People's History Museum













By looking at a single object we can track the temporal shifts in the meaning of symbols. We can come to some understanding about how posters reflect or inject meaning into the most mundane of objects. And one thing is clear, Magritte was correct in stating that it wasn’t a pipe; it was clearly a lot more significant than that.

A Lost Art

2010 Conservative Election Poster

In 2010 the Conservative’s produced a series of interesting, but little commented upon, hand drawn posters. In doing so they returned to a much older and perhaps forgotten graphic style. From the 1950s and through the 60s, poster designers began increasingly to favour using photographic images in their creations.   

When assessing the posters of the 1950 general election, a member of the Conservative party’s publicity team stated, “Many commentators have repeated ad nauseum – that the Labour Party’s Jarrow Marchers poster had a deadly effect.” A Conservative agent was also of this opinion, stating that Labour made “very effective use of photographs showing unemployment between the wars, while we relied solely on figures and graphs.” And when summing up of their own campaign Labour reported that “the three-colour photographic posters proved most popular.” Labour used the 1936 Jarrow march – when unemployed men walked from the North East town to London in protest at their plight – to suggest that a vote for the Conservatives would be a vote for a return to the unemployment of the 1930s.

 We found a copy of the Jarrow poster when searching for objects for the exhibition.

Courtesy of the People’s History Museum












In three colours, the poster combines words and the evocative image of the marchers. Not a drawn image, but instead photographic. It was not the first time that pictorial posters had favoured photographs. The Conservative’s 1929 Safety First poster used a photographic, rather than painted, portrait of the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin. While some of the posters produced by the National Government in the 1930s, would also adopt photographic imagery. However, in 1950 there appears to be systematic shift. Images were more likely to be photographs than drawings. Just five years before in 1945, the Daily Mirror cartoonist Philip Zec and surrealist painter John Armstrong drew the majority of Labour’s efforts. Armstrong’s work in particular, of the V for victory rising over the peaceful Britain, was particularly evocative. Armstrong of course appropriating the image from Churchill.        

Courtesy of the People’s History Museum









Zec produced four more posters for Labour in 1950, but his impact was less than in 45. The Conservatives in 1950 produced their own photographic posters, of a Bulldog for instance. And if we think of the most memorable election posters following this date; 1959 and Life’s Better with the Conservatives and of course the famous 1979 Labour isn’t working, it was combinations of photo image and word which seem to generate impact.

It was 1950 when the aesthetic of the poster shifted. The illustration dying, the photo in the ascendancy.