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A blog dedicated to the examination of communications in election campaigns, with a focus on posters
Sunday, September 7, 2008
British election posters (unlike those in the U.S.—at least the authorized ones) are often striking in design and/or visually outrageous. Not only are they generally more negative, but also more issue-oriented. One poster, issued by the Conservative Party in 1997, titled “New Labour, New Danger,” depicted Tony Blair with demonic, red eyes; others in the campaign included “New Labour, New Taxes” (which had a purse with red eyes) and “New Labour, No Britain” (featuring a white flag). Another poster, this time distributed by the Labour Party in 2001, caricatured opposition leader William Hague sporting Margaret Thatcher’s hairdo.
Such practices go way back. In the early nineteenth century, all the British parties distributed millions of full-color posters that ridiculed their opponents and their policies. At the right is one, issued by the Conservatives in 1909, which illustrates "socialism" as a demon (i.e., the Liberals, primarily) choking Britannia, wearing the belt of "prosperity" and stomping on the nation's shield. By the 1920s, Tory posters (directed now at the Labour Party) employed “bewhiskered, blood-stained Bolsheviki of the usual caricature type,” according to The New York Times; one poster, featuring a “Red” returning to Russia with bundles of banknotes, turned out the lyrics “Bolshevik, Bolshevik, where have you been? Over to England, where the ‘Reds’ are still green?”
In Great Britain, where television time for political parties and candidates is limited, and no advertisements are allowed on either television or radio, there are no legal limitations on expenditures for posters and billboards. Consequently, posters in British election campaigns have a more significant role than in the United States.
There is some evidence to indicate that these poster campaigns have an effect on voters. One focus group study, for example, showed that posters influenced young British swing voters during the 1996 election campaign. The modern billboard and poster attacks on Blair, Hague, and other leaders—and their positions— were a continuation of a tradition in British politics, begun over one hundred years ago with the negative printed advertisements against Benjamin Disraeli, William Gladstone, and Lloyd George, and their parties.
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