The Image of British Politics
Stephen Plant

Introduction From post-war austerity to post-modern pleas to vote Loony, political posters cast light on the rise and fall of political issues, parties and figures in Britain in the twentieth century. Stephen Plant, assistant archivist at the British Library for Political and Economic Sciences, introduces a selection of these posters and provides a fascinating insight into the landscape of British politics.

Winston ChurchillThe 1945 election was the first to be fought in Britain for 10 years, and the first since the Second World War. It is widely considered to represent a watershed in British history. During this campaign, the Conservative Party capitalised on what was perceived to be its greatest asset: Winston Churchill. Churchill was warmly received almost everywhere he went. This poster, urging the nation to "Help him finish the job: Vote National," played on this perception. However, when polling day finally arrived Churchill was heavily defeated by Clement Atlee, the unassuming leader of the Labour Party. This landslide ushered in a Labour government that would introduce the welfare state and the National Health Service, as well as the nationalisation of the major arms of the British economy.

John Major
John Major posterJohn Major rose to occupy the office of prime minister from relatively humble beginnings. The son of a former trapeze artist whose garden-ornament business fell on hard times, Major had a poor childhood in South London. He left school at 15 and followed a path through local politics, eventually becoming an MP in 1979 by winning the Huntingdonshire seat. In 1990 he won the Conservative Party leadership after the fall of Margaret Thatcher, and remained in office until the election of 1997 which saw Labour win a 179-seat majority in parliament. The image of John Major as a decent, honest, humble man was a strength for the Conservatives in the 1992 general election. The campaign focused on him and his home-grown style of soapbox electioneering. By 1997 this focus had turned around to accusations of weak leadership.

The Green Party
Green party posterThe late twentieth century witnessed the proliferation of environmental lobby and action groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. These sentiments found their political voice in the Green Party which has regularly stood in British general and local elections since the 1970s. They have had some success, but this has been limited to a few local council seats. Felicity Norman is a Green Party councillor on Leominster District Council in the west midlands of Britain. The Green Party is traditionally strong on local issues, and a vote for Green in a general election is sometimes understood as a protest vote from the left.

Yes We Can: Sean Connery
SNP posterSean Connery achieved fame for his on-screen role as James Bond. Post-Bond, however, he has made well publicised forays into Scottish politics, arguing vehemently for devolution and supporting the cause of the Scottish Nationalist Party. That party used his celebrity status and support for the devolution of Scotland in their election campaigns throughout the 1990s. In July 1999, Connery was present for the official opening of the Scottish Parliament--the first for almost 300 years.

Monster Raving Loony
Loony party poster "Vote for Insanity--You know it makes sense." The Monster Raving Loony Party was founded in the late 1970s by Screaming Lord Sutch, who included among his policies the breeding of ready-pickled fish in wine lakes, playing on the controversial European lakes for surplus wine produced to meet EU targets. It has long been the nonsense vote in British general elections. However, some Monster Raving Loony suggestions have seen the light of day, such as passports for pets and honours for the Beatles. Indeed they have achieved a minuscule amount of electoral success with Alan "Howling Laud" Hope winning a council seat in Ashburton. He was named mayor for a second term in May 1999. The candidate fielded in this poster achieved his own kind of notoriety in 1997 when the daughter of prominent Conservative MP, Edwina Currie, announced that she would be supporting Johnny V. Badd, her local Monster Raving Loony Party candidate on election night.

Copyright London School of Economics and Political Science.