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Posters and Election Propaganda

A blog dedicated to the examination of communications in election campaigns, with a focus on posters

Tagged as “United Kingdom”

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Posted by Steven Seidman at 5:20PM   |  Add a comment
Cameron walking through Chadlington, near his Oxfordshire home, with his wife and children (December 27, 2007). Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

It is surprising that televised debates—which began in the United States in 1960—just arrived in the United Kingdom this year! After all, British prime ministers have responded to questions posed by the opposition in parliament for hundreds of years, sometimes with outrageous results.

The recent debates among the leaders of the three main British political parties, according to Sarah Lyall (writing in The New York Times) "were meant to provide a corrective to that, replacing the histrionics with gravity and purpose. But their main effect, it seems, has been not to get people thinking about issues so much as to accelerate a different trend entirely—the move to an American-style obsession with personality politics."

In other words, the emphasis is more on image over issues. Many observers of British political campaigns believe that candidates' appearance, charm, likability, eloquence, seeming sincerity, and even family members have become much more important in the U.K.—even though the country is facing grave economic issues. According to MORI pollster Robert Worcester, "[i]mage makes up about 60 percent of the determinants for the floating voter and 40 percent is about issues." [quoted in Reuters]

In the U.S., it is usually critical for a candidate to present him or herself as being in touch with the common person, and that is increasingly the case in the U.K. as well. As Lyall points out, even though Nick Clegg (the Liberal Democrats' leader) and David Cameron (leader of the Conservative Party) come from "posh" or "privileged backgrounds," they were often presented as "down-to-earth" blokes. For example, Cameron is depicted as a man who rides to work on a bicycle, washes the dishes, and spends time with his wife and children.

Image management in politics has taken place in the U.K. for quite awhile, even if it has picked up in the last few decades. Posters distributed during World War II featured the Winston Churchill with planes and tanks in the background. Television spots in the late 1960s showed Conservative leader Edward Heath in a pub and at a football game to try to “humanize” him. By the early 1990s, under Tony Blair’s leadership, the “Americanization” (i.e., more emphasis on personality and image, simplification of problems to a few emphasized issues, targeting of voters, and negative and/or emotional messages) of Labour Party campaigns had begun in earnest, manifest in the inclusion, on posters, of numerous photographs of Blair, who had a winning personality and was quite photogenic.

The recent debates may have made election campaigns in the U.K. even more of "a charisma contest," as Simon Schama wrote in The New Yorker, with the image of Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Labour suffering, since he "still managed to exude a gloomy fatalism," while Cameron was "eager to berate bankers for their wicked bonuses," and Clegg was "fresh of face and forthright and fluent in his opinions, look[ing] straight into the camera."


Posted by Steven Seidman at 12:15PM   |  Add a comment
Freeze Frame from BBC Interview (March 28, 2010)

Jonathan Gabay of brand forensics talks to the BBC about the British Conservative Party's poster campaign for this year's elections that directly attacks Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

It echoes Saatchi & Saatchi's famous 1979 campaign for Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives, best seen in the classic poster, titled "Labour Isn't Working."



Posted by Steven Seidman at 3:30PM   |  Add a comment
Labour Party Web Site Image (2010)

How important are good looks and smiles on political posters, billboards, direct-mail pieces, Web sites, and television to political consultants and designers?

Well, it depends. Does a candidate or party want to convey seriousness, which the times demand, or a confident, friendly image to which voters can better relate? And how much airbrushing and other image manipulation should be done, before the candidate is ridiculed (as British Conservative Party leader David Cameron has been, especially on the mydavidcameron.com Web site)?

Some commentators, such as Michael Deacon, think that Cameron (especially after his portrait was airbrushed for a billboard recently) just doesn't look like a  "statesmen," and that the result is a lack of support of his party in the polls.

British Labour Party leader and Prime Minister Gordon Brown was never shown smiling a decade ago, but now is shown with a very pleasant smile on his party's Web site, and with an idiotic grin on opposition Conservative posters. Since times are hard now, perhaps Labour should can the smiles though.

Cameron, of course, was not the first politician whose image was "improved" by designers. Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative Prime Minister of Great Britain in the 1920s and 1930s, was transformed from "homely" to "attractive," according to Ernest Marshall, who wrote in 1929 that although “Baldwin has been described as the homeliest man in a conspicuous position in British politics, … [his] facial lineaments are now displayed on posters all over the country as an attractive appeal to the voters, … [with his] features … rounded out almost to John Bullish fullness” (Ernest Marshall, “The News of Europe in Week-End Cables,” New York Times, May 5, 1929, http://proquest.com).

Baldwin was not the first “homely” candidate to be idealized in campaign portraits, since this process had transformed, earlier, plain-looking or unattractive politicians, most notably Abraham Lincoln in the United States.

And after the memorable first debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy during the 1960 U.S. election campaign, the importance of “image” was mentioned right away in newspaper articles. For example, two days after the event, a piece in the New York Times stated that viewers had made “frequent mention of how drawn and weary the Vice President had looked” and how his “grimness was shocking,” but many thought that Senator Kennedy had projected a “mature image” (New York Times, “Both Candidates Retain Backers,” September 28, 1960, http://proquest.com).

Until the 1952 election, candidates never really smiled in U.S. political propaganda; they were expected to present themselves as “serious.”  Smiling also has varied by party: in Japan, only 36% of candidates of the Clean Government Party smiled in campaign posters studied in 2000 and 2001, in contrast to the 80% of Communist candidates who did [See Jonathan Lewis and Brian J. Masshardt, “Election Posters in Japan,” Japan Forum 14 (2002)].
 


Posted by Steven Seidman at 3:00PM   |  Add a comment
Mumsnet Logo

The influential parenting Web site in Britain, Mumsnet.com, is being used by the political parties to get across their messages to "mommy bloggers." The May election in the U.K. is now being called the "Mumsnet Election," according to Emma Hall in AdAge.com. In fact, the Web site has a section with exactly that title, with links to an article, a survey, a discussion board, leader biographies, and Web chats.

Just as "soccer moms" were a key targeted group for Bill Clinton's 1996 U.S. campaign, middle-class, college-educated mothers are being targeted in this year's British campaign, as Rachel Sylvester points out in the TImes. According to Sylvester, "Labour is planning manifesto pledges to increase paternity leave, allow greater flexibility at work and give more help to those caring for elderly parents. The Tories are also preparing to pitch to the Mumsnet vote with an increase in parental leave...."

Both the Conservative and Labour Parties have developed ads for the Web site and their leaders have participated in online chat sessions with some of the site's users. One Labour ad says, "Are you earning more than 42,000 pounds? Say hello to David [Cameron, the Conservative Party's leader]. And goodbye to your child tax credits. Vote Tory and you'll get less than you bargained for." The Conservative Party's ad exclaims, however, that the party favors child tax credits for people who earn under 78,000 pounds.


Posted by Steven Seidman at 1:00PM   |  1 comment
BNP Billboard (June 2009) [http://norfolkunity.blogspot.com/2009/03/churches-dismiss-bnps-jesus-election.html]

The next general election in the United Kingdom must take place by June 3, 2010. All seats in the House of Commons will be filled. In the latest Guardian/ICM poll, the Conservatives lead with 44% support, followed by the ruling Labour Party (27%), the Liberals (18%), and Others (11%). Among the last group is the British National Party (BNP). One poll, however, had the BNP potentially gaining 22% of the vote, after BNP Leader Nick Griffin appeared on BBC Television.

The BNP is appealing to "the indigenous, white British people ... which successive governments have done far too little to protect,” according to the Telegraph. The party has campaigned to celebrate "White History Month," protested government funds given to a Moslem group, fought government immigration policies, and more (see the BNP Web site).

BNP posters, billboards, and videos have tried to link the party's image to past British leaders and glories. One poster shows Winston Churchill and British airmen during World War II; a billboard links the BNP to Jesus; a video (which includes many posters) on the party's Web site defends the party and its stands—calling for citizens to "take back" the country—as well as associating it with past achievements by the English.

 



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