Dole Queues and Demons: British election posters from the Conservative Party Archive
Stuart Ball
Bodleian Library, £19.99      

Dole Queues and Demons is a good tool for campaigners who want to learn how to get a political message across. The book reflects on advertising campaigns from the beginning of last century until as recently as last year. In the old days, the messages were simple, sometimes very offensive and very direct. Posters at the beginning of the century played on racist stereotypes, such as a 1909 image of ‘Chinaman’. Nowadays, messages are more sophisticated and the designs more elaborate.

Most striking are the posters from the late fifties to the mid sixties. In this period, the colours and designs were very pop and colourful. One example of this is the 1955 ‘Shout it from a million new housetops’ poster. Another poster, from 1962, is divided in two. While the top portion says: ‘go AHEAD’, the bottom part says only: ‘go Conservative’. The colours are limited to pink and dark purple – a very feminine approach.

The cut of these illustrations and the words they supported were free and not framed anymore as in the past. A 1951 poster says simply: ‘Cut out Government waste. VOTE CONSERVATIVE’. This poster is again divided in two and the image is very Andy Warhol: a top creamy colour against an acid orange display, and two black hands holding a pair of shears. All this suggests a will to break with everything - the past, the stereotypes and old ideas.

In politics, negative campaigns are common, and political posters are no exception. Similarly, each party uses only a few words to sell its doctrine, principles and morals, and this is reflected in the book.

Spanning the period 1909 to 2010, Dole Queues and Demons includes around 200 posters, chosen from over 700 posters held in the archive, making it a great resource for campaigners keen to learn more about capturing the public vote. The posters can be elaborate, especially when a party is trying to launch a new logo. Indeed, during the Conservative 2007 campaign, the logo may even have taken predominance over the message.

Some campaign images were created by chance. According to Ball, the idea for the famous Conservative poster of Tony Blair with demonic eyes was formed when a member of staff in the Conservative Central Office just placed evil eyes on top of Tony Blair’s face… by accident.

 

Tags: Antonello Sticca, Dole Queues and Demons, Stuart Ball