Monday, April 07, 2008

The decline of political oratory and artistry

This is the Conservative Party’s latest poster highlighting Labour's inexorable tax increases which are hitting some of the nation’s lowest paid workers.

Words, words, words.

It may be informative, but it is tediously boring, functionally unmemorable, and few will stop and read it. While Dan Hannan MEP bemoans the self-expression straitjacket into which Boris Johnson has been tied, it is becoming increasingly evident that individualism in political expression is being subsumed to the lowest denominator bland verbiage of the PR company in fulfilment of the zeitgeist demand for artless and patronising pap.

Compare that poster with some of these period gems from Conservative campaigns of yesteryear. They are quaint, but brilliantly incisive and as relevant today as they were a century ago (hat tip to The Daily Mail):

With one foot stamping on the Union Jack, the sinister beast launches itself at the virtuous maiden. Hairy arms outstretched, the demon of socialism throttles the pure and upright Britannia, her belt of prosperity providing her with no protection from this monster's onslaught.

Much as it might resemble some lurid advertisement for a B-grade British horror movie, this strident image is in fact an election poster issued by the Conservative Party in 1909. It is one of dozens from the early 20th Century released from the Bodleian Library's archive, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Bold, brazen and often over the top, these posters range from the overtly triumphant - such as the one which proclaims the Conservative Sun-Ray Treatment of peace, pensions and pure food - to the ferociously politically incorrect.

Beacon of hope? Guiding us in financial stormy waters.

Sniffing around: today it's the HIP inspectors who call.

A "Chinaman" poster from 1909 - featuring a character who has an uncanny resemblance to Tony Blair - was designed as an attack on Liberal prime minister Herbert Asquith's Free Trade policy. It implies the policy will result in a flood of substandard, cheap Chinese pork replacing English bacon. Here is proof, should any be needed, that there's nothing new about dirty tactics in the battle for power. And while many of the posters seem outdated, there are some which seem strangely pertinent to British politics today.

Free for all: Will allowing foreign imports push us over the edge?

Overtaxed (left): Lloyd George is the bogeyman here; The rich get richer (right): A dig at champagne socialism.

Through foreign eyes: It's the poor that pay the price.

Pipe dream: Promises, promises.

Is it that PR has strangled creativity, or has politics become bland? Is it that the micro-narrative of spin has subsumed the political grand narratives which used to excite people? Is it that society has become increasingly superficial, and profundity is left to the out-of-touch philosophers? Is everyone so afflicted with Attention Deficit Disorder that they can no longer read eloquently-crafted prose but can only ingest information through crass soundbites? Is the media doing this to humanity, or is it simply adapting to the needs of humanity?

While drawings and paintings are replaced by 'hi-tech' graphics, it is a tragedy for England and the English language that Boris Johnson (for whom His Grace has prayed every day since he announced his candidacy) has permitted himself to be bowdlerised, managed, censored and cloned. As Mr Hannan observes:

The greatest journalistic phrase-maker of our age, a man with a Shakespearean eye for a fresh image, is forcing himself to use the pedestrian idiom of the jobbing hack.

“The police do a brave and difficult job, but they are burdened by bureaucracy. Too much time and money is spent on form-filling, when it could be used to employ more police on the beat… Getting from A to B is a daily struggle for many who live in this city, whether they live in zone 1 or zone 6… I will stand up against local hospital closures.”

All worthy stuff: you can’t disagree with a word. And all, you can be sure, agonising to the author.

Then again, this is what voters seem to like: familiar phrases extolling unexceptionable aims. Depressing, really.

Depressing, indeed.


Blogger Curly said...

One might have hoped that a party led by a PR man could have shown a little more imagination.

7 April 2008 at 17:33  
Anonymous Elusive Pimpernel said...

Bottom line it's become big business and corporate. And like all such entities: risk averse.

It's not just no diversity in the PR - it's through the politics. Beyond the posturing there doesn't seem to me to be much in it.

7 April 2008 at 18:01  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your Grace

You are very unkind about that ad. After 18 years in market research I am often surprised by what works.

Generally, detail and the reading of an ad is not a problem, if you can catch the eye and indicate you are saying something important or useful.

This ad might work well getting across a lot of information, in a way that might appeal to people who consider themselves intelligent.

Also, I like very much your selection of old ads, but they might also show, and most of them are very dated, that the public is now a little better educated and expects or can handle information, and might react negatively to obviously simplified arguments.

7 April 2008 at 19:08  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS I am nothing whatsoever to do with the Conservative Party, now or in the past.

Just an old MR hand.

7 April 2008 at 19:16  
Anonymous hear o israel said...

your grace
very up to date with britannia getting throttled out our coinage !!

slight conservative gaff :do typists exists ?? perhaps the makers of trplicate carbon paper will also suffer!!

it is funny when you are young labour proganda looks so appealing "more of free and free of more" only later in you life do you see the , the cronyism and propoganda and the absurdity of the "millionaire socialist"

tax discussions causes headaches for christians , but at least not a prison sentence yet!

here we at a point in history where generally we have never been better off , luxuries for the masses , you could argue that one aspect of socialism is realised , but now we are aware of the price and the ecnomic models inherent instability , i think nu labour have cystallised the lack of trade and the deciet of bogus borrowing and its all to manufactured and debt ridden godless paradise illusion. what a farrago!!

i think the out comes of this wreckless ideaological folly are to be suffered again ,unfortunately , but let us hope it is its last sitting at the table ad infiniti

7 April 2008 at 19:51  
Blogger ultramontane grumpy old catholic said...

Your Grace: I think that there are some suberb cartoons from the early 19th century that could be used to great effect - for example one with G Brown being fed with donations and s***ing medals and peerages.

But out of the gallery you published, I do like the snoops and the Englishman's castle. Easily updated for today.

7 April 2008 at 23:11  
Anonymous UKIP Bournemouth said...

We've done something using Britannia with a flyer that is being delivered as we speak:

7 April 2008 at 23:55  
Anonymous C Powell said...

I agree with ultramontane: the snoops ad could easily be used today and would chime with so many people's fears of Labour's surveillance state, bossy local officials, ID cards and the rest.

8 April 2008 at 09:59  
Anonymous Serf said...

Unfortunately we have so crass a media, that they abet the misrepresentation of any that a politician says, just to make it more interesting.

So even Boris Johnson, a man whose prose could transform British Politics, needs to play it safe.

Look on the bright side, once he's in he will not be able to keep it up for 4 years.

8 April 2008 at 11:24  
Blogger Snuffleupagus said...

Your Grace
I'm not sure the modern one is as bad as all that, but I do see what you mean. But it isn't the fault of our media or our politicians. This is what democracy brings. In a democracy, the lowest common denominator always wins out. Careful what you wish for...

8 April 2008 at 15:19  
Anonymous Voyager said...

Your Grace must have noticed that in church readings are often delivered flat and in a monotone typical of the modern reader.

The readings were written in metre to inspire and instill a sense of action and purpose by being delivered with intonation and a persuasive if not cajoling sense of inspiration.

Few readers actually use the prose to good effect.

The great days of political oratory stemmed from church, chapel and Sunday School in an era before microphones and where people addressed multitudes and hoped to sway them more than delivering private conversations over coffee.

The problem is that noone sets out to sway opinion or inspire support because of fear of appearing to lead, so all slink into tricks and devices to manipulate through wiles rather than articulate.

9 April 2008 at 06:58  
OpenID curly15 said...

Would the PR man fancy a new beer mat?

9 April 2008 at 23:25  

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