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Dole Queues and Demons: British Election Posters from the Conservative Party Archive

By Matthew Barrett
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Dole Queues and Demons"Dole Queues and Demons: British Election Posters from the Conservative Party Archive", a new book written by Stuart Ball, a Reader in Modern History at the University of Leicester, was released this month. The book contains nearly 200 of the 650 election campaign posters in the vast Conservative Party Archive, which is contained in the Bodleian Library - the main research library at the University of Oxford. Many of the posters have never been shown in print. 

"Dole Queues and Demons" provides a guide to the political issues and electoral strategies of the Party throughout the twentieth century, and up to the present state of affairs.

Housewife Bbc












Right-hand poster from 1958, left-hand poster from 1952.

Divided into chapters based upon political periods, the book highlights the evolution in style and attitudes to advertising and the design of campaigns - as well as the political ideologies that drove the campaigns of the day. The poster above on the left, is a perfect example of the contrast between the standards of today and the campaigns of sixty years ago. "It's a housewife's budget!" probably wouldn't be thought the best slogan. "Keep things better" is also probably a little simplistic for the 21st century. 


The artistic design of some of the earlier posters is quite remarkable. The poster on the right, from 1929, is typical of the style of the era. The 1929 election was an interesting one: the Conservative Party received more votes than Ramsay MacDonald's Labour Party - but Labour won 136 seats, and the Tories lost 152 seats in total - creating a hung Parliament (this scenario where the party with the most votes doesn't win the most seats was repeated in 1951 and the first 1974 election). 

1929 was the first time Labour won the most seats in Parliament - clearly voters rejected the "safe choice" of incumbent Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin that the poster on the right is supposed to project. Mr Baldwin described his achievements in his election address in the Conservative manifesto

" a result of our administration the Empire is more firmly united, the prestige of the country stands higher, the prosperity the welfare of our people is greater than ever before in our history."

EuropeAs for ideology, the poster on the right is from the 1966 general election - in which Ted Heath lost 52 seats, and thus gave Harold Wilson the more comfortable working majority he sought (Mr Wilson had won a majority of four seats at the 1964 election). It's a pretty striking reminder of the fact the Conservative Party was, for a number of years, the pro-European party in British politics. 

The 1966 manifesto is worth a read for the dramatic policy contrasts with today. Three quick quotes:

"We are determined to give Britain a respected place in the world again and lead her into the European Community. Britain must be part of a wider grouping if she is to exert her full influence in the world."

"Break the deadlock in Rhodesia by initiating talks with Mr. Smith and his colleagues for the purpose of obtaining a constitutional settlement, without any prior conditions on either side."

"Start a war on waste in Government. Establish a Cost Effectiveness Department to introduce new management techniques into all Government Departments. Use sophisticated computer techniques to study the feasibility of Government projects."


Many readers will remember the 1979 general election campaign - which produced the poster on the right. The idea poster was designed by the Saatchi & Saatchi agency - which also famously produced the "Labour's Not Working" poster that makes up the front cover of "Dole Queues and Demons".

The "Don't just hope for a better life. Vote for one." slogan was part of the first advert produced for the Party by Saatchi & Saatchi. As testament to the simple, effective message it contains, the slogan was also used by John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008. 

Lord (Maurice) Saatchi provides the foreword to the book:

"Posters are to politics what poetry is to literature: the only possible words in the only possible order. They should instantly convey the core message in a memorable way. This requires a handful of words, each of which is perfectly chosen, married to an image which reinforces them. When this happens posters can be the single defining medium of a campaign."

"Dole Queues and Demons" showcases the evolution of our political campaigns, and offers a timely look at the British political tradition of the Conservative Party election poster. More details are available on the Bodleian Library website - including information on how to buy the book. 

Images taken from ‘Dole Queues and Demons’ published by Bodleian Library Publishing © Conservative Party Archive Trust, 2011


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