Despite our politicians’ constant clamour for novelty and their wish to appear as pretty modern kind of guys, nothing is truly new in politics.
I am currently researching the history of party posters since the Liberal landslide of 1906 and my analysis of their role in the 2010 campaign has just been published in the latest account of the election, Political Communication in Britain.
During the last election, Labour did something that seemed very innovative. The party called out to the public for poster designs to help it better attack the Conservatives. Labour wanted to uncover an image as memorable as the Hope poster that had proved such a potent visual symbol for the Obama Presidential campaign by tapping into the talents of those amateur designers who had so successfully parodied Conservative posters through the website mydavidcameron.com.
The winner, Don’t let him take Britain back to the 1980s, was designed by Jacob Quagliozzi a 24 year old Labour activist from St Albans. It played on the popularity of the BBC television series Ashes to Ashes, presenting David Cameron as the throwback no-nonsense tough guy character Gene Hunt.
The Conservatives returned the compliment by immediately releasing their own version of the poster, with a new tagline, Fire up the Quattro. It’s time for change. Labour’s poster had sought to damage Cameron by associating him with the 1980s, and therefore Thatcherism, something from which he had spent most of his time as Conservative leader disassociating himself. But Labour had overlooked the fact that Hunt was an extremely popular character – and their poster had inadvertently done the impossible: it had made Cameron seem almost cool.
This was however not the first time Labour had asked members of the public to produce poster designs: it did it in 1908 and then again in 1921.
The poster that came second in 1921 had a better fate than the one that won in 2010. For, Greet the Dawn (featured at the top of this post) was so effective it was used in the 1923 and 1929 elections and has subsequently achieved an almost iconic status within the party.
The prize for coming was second was £7. 10s – not bad for 1921 – but you would have thought someone might have spotted the designer’s grammatical error, which survived both elections. Can you spot it?
Demonstrating the continued popularity of the imagery contained in Greet The Dawn, Labour’s 2010 election manifesto cover also used the rising sun to invest the party’s doomed campaign with some optimism.
However, despite appearances, the cover was actually inspired by a Lemon Jelly album cover. Even so, what the 2010 campaign showed is that despite the increasing use of the internet for campaigning (it’s now the place where ‘posters’ appear most frequently) within politics there is very little new under the sun.