Ghosts of Christmas protest past on show in Manchester

The cards chart events from the protests of the suffragettes and the miner's strike to today's spending cuts and the Iraq war

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As we get ready to send our Christmas cards, how many know the long history of protest associated with the tradition?

Llew Smith, the former Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent, has a collection of 1,100 political Christmas cards.

They chart events from the protests of the suffragettes to today's spending cuts and many more besides.

Start Quote

Too much of our history is about kings, queens and generals”

End Quote Llew Smith Curator, Politics, Protest and the Christmas Card

From Saturday, many of them will be on public display at the Peoples' History Museum in Manchester.

Christmas cards have been used to make political points since they first appeared in the 1840s.

Mr Smith - who stood down as an MP at the 2005 general election - and his late wife Pam spent 35 years assembling their collection.

He said his aim in exhibiting the cards was to show that history was made by everybody, not just the rich and powerful.

He said: "Too much of our history is about kings, queens and generals. Why can't we spend more time discussing coal miners and steelworkers and textile workers?

"Why can't we spend more time discussing people who had the good sense and the courage to oppose some wars which were very bloody and totally and utterly useless?"

Christmas card The tradition of ribbing politicians continues in this example, showing Business Secretary Vince Cable

The exhibition contains images of protest associated with most major British and international political issues of the past 160 years.

There's a card from the Young Socialists of 1918 and one which features the Rhondda hunger march of 1927.

Mr Smith read its words aloud: "May the spirit and achievements of the march prevail and hasten the day when the working class in Britain shall march victoriously to the conquest of power.

"Men will then truly say, 'A merry Christmas...'

Miners' strike

"Today we'd say, 'men and women'..." he added.

Christmas card About 100 cards are related to the divisive 1984/5 miners' strike

He pointed out a Christmas greeting supporting the Greenham Common anti-nuclear protests of the 1980s and others opposing wars such as those in Vietnam and Iraq.

The 1984/5 miners' strike provoked a wide range of satirical Christmas cards, often featuring those twin icons of the age - the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill, president of the National Union of Mineworkers.

Mr Smith has about 100 cards which refer to that strike alone: some were produced by professional artists, but others were designed by amateurs in what the former MP calls "an act of solidarity with the miners" and a way of fundraising.

He particularly enjoys one which features Santa Claus acting as an NUM picket.

"This one here," he said, "you've got Santa Claus singing 'Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way - I'd rather be a picket than a scab on Christmas day.'"

'Form of propaganda'
Christmas card Some of the cards in the collection go back as far as 160 years

Some intriguing cards were sent to US soldiers during the Korean war by their Communist enemy, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

These tried to encourage the Americans to desert, contrasting the Christmas celebrations which would be enjoyed by businessmen in the US, with the miserable conditions endured by their country's troops.

Llew Smith said: "It's interesting how cards like that - and the same applies to the Vietnam war and other wars - were used as a form of propaganda, not just by people on the ground who opposed the war but actually from the official circles, from the governments of the time."

The exhibition, Politics, Protest and the Christmas Card, runs at the People's History Museum until 6 January.

Mr Smith hopes to mount it in Wales in future, if he can interest an exhibitor.

He also hopes to publish a book on his series of Christmas cards, which give a fascinating insight into the history of popular protest.

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