Political poster exhibition in England

This video from the USA is called “Graphic Guts”, Political Posters by Luba Lukova.

By Keith Flett in Britain:

The politics of the election poster

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Fly-posting, political or otherwise, is increasingly frowned upon in major cities and space on official advertising hoardings costs huge sums and has to be booked well in advance.

On the face of it the prognosis for the future of the political poster does not seem good.

Yet in a visual age the poster retains a central space in modern politics.

An exhibition at the People’s History Museum in Manchester on the history of the political poster which runs until June and is free to walk around could not be more timely.

I have written before on the museum. It is a great space with permanent galleries, a changing exhibition space on the ground floor and a cafe to chat and reflect over a coffee.

It is a tribute to the exhibition’s curators that even as a veteran labour historian I learnt things I didn’t know – but it is accessible to all, whatever level of understanding you have.

The poster that makes an impact as you walk in is from the 1950 general election campaign. It notes that Labour’s NHS provides for all and then states: “Tories voted against it.”

But this is a genuine history, not a party political broadcast, so there are posters from the Tories and from other opponents of the left.

I was fascinated to learn that John Hassall, the professional poster designer responsible for the famous Skegness Is So Bracing poster, was also a Tory and did posters for them. The exhibition covers several other designers who produced posters professionally such as Philip Zec, who did some of the artwork for Labour’s 1945 campaign.

The Tories 1979 election poster Labour Isn’t Working, showing a lengthy dole queue, is held to be the most well-known Tory poster. Subsequent efforts such as one depicting Tony Blair with “demon eyes” were less effective.

Several themes stood out.

One was iconography – for example, the depiction of politicians with a pipe.

In one Labour poster, Five Years To Finish The Job for the 1966 general election, leader Harold Wilson is depicted not with a picture of himself but by a drawing of a pipe.

Wilson was a famous pipe-smoker in public, although he preferred cigars in private.

Post-1945 Labour prime minister Attlee too smoked a pipe. The idea was that the pipe suggested political gravitas and responsibility.

The depiction of women in posters is, mainly, a less happy one.

The use is invariably to show the woman as someone responsible for bringing up children, looking after the family home and managing the shopping budget rather than a trade unionist at work.

For example a Labour poster for the 1918 election shows a woman cradling a baby with the words Mothers – Vote Labour.

The trade union angle to posters has another unexpected twist though. It is noted that all parties, including the Tories, were keen to make it clear that their election posters were produced by trade union labour. The volume of complaints if they did not was simply too great to deal with.

The point is made that the general election of 1910 around tariff reform in particular generated the largest number of political posters thus far seen in a campaign.

Of course exhibitions can’t cover everything for reasons of space and what is available to be shown.

One might note an absence of posters for elections in Wales and Scotland and indeed for parties from the left, whether the Independent Labour Party or the Communist Party.

These are minor points. This is yet another excellent and thought-provoking exhibition from the People’s History Museum.

ILP poster

At least here is an Independent Labour Party poster.

Communist poster

And a communist poster.

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