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

During the course of my research on the history of the party election poster, I have recently identified some interesting connections between politics and the pipe.

I think that by looking at a single object – in this case the humble pipe – we can track the temporal shifts in the meaning of symbols. We can also come to some understanding about how posters reflect or inject meaning into the most mundane of objects.

What I am not sure about however is: where have all our pipe-smoking politicians gone and what do our leaders now use to symbolise their trustworthiness?

I have curated  an exhibition of political posters for the People’s History Museum, which will be opened by Matthew Parris on 11th November – more of which in due course.

Chris Burgess

Published inPosters


  1. I don’t think it’s a direct substitute for the pipe, but politicians now appear with other people’s young children far more often than they used to. The message is sort of “trust me, I care about our country’s future”.

  2. Chris Burgess Chris Burgess

    I think that trust is in implicit in many posters of leaders. What appears to change is the reason why we should trust them. One reason is because, as you say, they are thinking of the future. Another reason for trusting politicians, so they would have use believe, is that they are like us. This is partly a result of the decreasing formality of politics. The likes of Baldwin and to some extent later leaders like Douglas-Home and perhaps Attlee attempted to build trust because they held the characteristics of leadership; dependable, hard working, perhaps even aloof. It is now much more common for our leaders to suggest that they are trustworthy because they are the same of us. Harold Wilson, Tony Blair and David Cameron are examples of leaders who have used posters/literature to promote an image of themselves as having an understanding of the people, because they are of the people.

  3. ciara ciara

    It is a real problem. Mr Cameron has tried an array of props but merely made himself look like he was forever changing costume… rather like an action man doll. I guess the main thing is a prop that is constant. The modern suit and tie gives out certain re-assuring signals but risks making one politican look much like another. There is a role for hairstyles of course from Mrs Thatchers immovable and never changing ‘helmet’; to the wild sweep of a Boris or a Heseltine indicating they belong to the romantic branch of the party.

    There is nothing however that can really replace the pipe. It is a sad loss.

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