General election 2019: The changing face of party pamphlets

By Andrew Picken
BBC Scotland News


Before the dawn of social media, the "vote-for-me" mail shot was an important tool of electioneering. So, how have pamphlets changed? A library of leaflets held by the Scottish Political Archive reveals the styles and messages of yesteryear.

Targeted ads of the 1950s

Image source, SPA

"For Housewives Only" was a pamphlet issued by the Stirling branch of the Scottish National Party during the general elections of 1950 and 1951. Labour won the first contest of that decade with a five seat majority, but when they called a snap election the following year they lost to the Conservatives.

Sarah Bromage, an archivist at the political archive, which is housed at the University of Stirling, said: "The materials reflect the times they were produced in, they are so much slicker today and some messages certainly would never be replicated now."

In 2019 would any political party put these words on an election leaflet? - "To restrain you from living on the lap of Holywood luxury, he [the chancellor] has taxed everything in the kitchen from the clothes-pegs to the kitchen sink. He has not been so sore on the sitting-room. The tax on golden bowls has been reduced. Be duly grateful when you are buying Jeanie's wedding present!"

Going colour in the 1960s

The use of colour was a game changer for leaflets but the importance of politicians' faces in the material was not diminished, as this 16-page pamphlet, based on Margaret Thatcher's speech to the Conservative Party conference in 1968 shows.

Image source, SPA

The second flyer, perhaps inspired by the Bay City Roller mania of the time, is from the Conservative candidate for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth in the February and October 1974 general elections.

Cartoon styles of 1979

For parties, perhaps with fewer resources or just looking to cut through a crowded field, the use of cartoons was a popular mode of communication in the last century. The image on the left is for the Communist Party in the 1979 general election, which Margaret Thatcher won for the Conservatives. The SNP also used cartoons a lot in the following decades, such as this one from the local election of 1990.

Image source, Spa

Ms Bromage said she believed that the shift away from multicoloured election material appearing on lampposts across Scotland has had an impact.

The majority of councils in Scotland have now passed local laws which ban the practice, with most citing the cost of removing posters and flyers after elections.

"It is so easy now to filter what news you view and I think at the very least the on-street material reminded people there is an election on and in some cases, they need to register to vote, But this has probably given the election leaflet a new lease of life too," said Ms Bromage.

The 'memes' of 1997

The 1997 general election saw the SNP continue its irreverent and mischievous approach to political campaigning, with its student branch producing this meme-esque mock poster of the hit US TV show Friends, then three years into its ten-year run, about the party's Westminster rivals.

Image source, SPA

Archivist Ms Bromage said a "big shift" in pamphleting was seen around the 1997 general election.

She explained: "This is both in the production and the message, this is probably timed with when these things came under more central party control and the leaflet becomes more about the wider party messages. Having said that we do now have so much more focus on tactical voting, explicitly saying that this seat is a two horse race and the like."

Candidate or leader? Changing the approach post 1983

Archivists cite the rise of Labour in the 1997 general election as a key shift in the world of political communications and the contrast between the materials used for that election and this 1983 poster for Michael Connarty, then the Labour candidate for the Stirling.

Image source, SPA

Going on the attack is not new

Direct attack adverts have long featured in elections with this Labour leaflet claiming that "if you vote SNP you get the Tories... Every vote wasted on the SNP is good news for the Tories because it is a vote to keep them in power".

Image source, SPA
Image source, SPA

On the Tory side, and just to prove there is nothing new under the political sun, the attack adverts were focused on Britain's relationship with Europe. This advert attacked the Labour Party's policies on closer ties with Europe as unpatriotic.

'News' pamphlets of 2010 and 2015

The Liberal Democrats pioneered the magazine or newspaper-style leaflets, packing in 'stories' and pictures of the candidate, such as this leaflet from the 2015 general election. The party is also a big user of bar graphs as this example, post-2010 general election, shows.

Image source, SPA

All images are the copyright of Scottish Political Archive

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