Election 2015 England

Election 2015: The people behind the political memorabilia

Various memorabilia Image copyright PArtyrama / Twisted Twee / Labour / Juliet Thomas
Image caption Cardboard cut-outs, political pants, mugs and dog toys are among election-themed collectibles

From squeaky dog toys to underwear emblazoned with images of grinning party leaders, election memorabilia comes in all shapes and sizes. But who would actually buy it?

If you are so inclined and have a bit of money to spare, £29.99 will get you a life-size cardboard cut-out of David Cameron or Ed Miliband to share the last days of the election campaign with. At £26.99, Nick Clegg is £3 cheaper.

Labour's "controls on immigration" mug would set you back £5 or for £3.99, or you could treat yourself to a chocolate bar featuring the face of your favourite politician "made from a luxurious blend of white and milk Belgian chocolate".

For some, such items are about more than novelty value.

Image copyright Jonathan Isaby
Image caption Jonathan Isaby started collecting election memorabilia in the early 1990s

Jonathan Isaby, 37, said he became "fascinated by the political arena" when television cameras filmed House of Commons proceedings for the first time in 1989.

"From the early 1990s onwards I collected memorabilia, mostly election leaflets, propaganda from various parties over the years.

"When I started my collection, there was no other way of getting all that information. Now the internet is there and websites have archives of these things," he said.

Mr Isaby, who is the Chief Executive of the Taxpayers' Alliance, said his most treasured political possession was a baseball cap printed with the word "Hague".

The hat was being sold in a Conservative Party shop in the Tories' old headquarters in Smith Square in 1997, a few days after the then-party leader, William Hague, was pictured wearing one on a log flume.

The stunt was not widely considered to be a success for Mr Hague, who apparently wanted to connect with younger voters, and Mr Isaby said he was "surprised" to see the caps for sale afterwards.

Image copyright PA
Image caption One of William Hague's infamous baseball caps is among Mr Isaby's prized collection items

He is also the proud owner of "20 or so" election mugs - including this year's Labour immigration mug - hundreds of leaflets and "quite a lot" of newspaper cuttings from the 1990s and early 2000s.

What makes Mr Isaby so interested in collecting seemingly innocuous items?

"It's history in the making, they represent how politics was being done at particular moments over time," he said.

"Even looking at leaflets, it's interesting how they've changed over time, and how nowadays these things are done in a much more centralised way.

"I'm well aware of not having great deal of space at home to keep all the stuff, I'm selective about what I pick up.

"Occasionally you see something and think, I have to have that for the collection."


The quirkiest election mementoes

Image copyright Twisted Twee
  • London-based company Twisted Twee is selling a range of political pants for men and women at £15 a pair, with David Cameron proving to be the most popular. According to the firm, his face is "reverentially printed onto white 100% cotton Y fronts for men who dress to the right"
  • Choc on Choc, a company based in Bath, has made a range of election chocolate bars with party leaders' faces on. Cameron, flavoured with blueberries, is the company's bestseller
  • UKIP supporters can buy a silk scarf decorated with pound signs for £5 from the party's online shop
  • For 95p, Liberal Democrat fans can buy a six inch (15cm) "Nick Clegg 2015" ruler through the party's official merchandise supplier
  • A Green Party high vis vest, priced at £7.50, was available to buy from the party's website but sold out
Image copyright Choc on Choc

In Clacton, Essex, a town centre shop window is home to a rather unique item of political memorabilia.

The glossy bright yellow and purple "Uke-Ip" ukuleles are the focal point of a display in Magic Music, a shop owned by Chris Nevard.

She asked her husband to spray paint the instruments before last year's by-election in the constituency, which saw Douglas Carswell elected as the party's first MP.

"UKIP made me take an interest in politics that I've never ever had before. I actually went to see Nigel Farage speak last year, and he was brilliant. I think Carswell's great, a really nice chap," Mrs Nevard said.

Image caption A pair of UKIP-themed ukuleles have pride of place in the window of Magic Music, Clacton
Image caption Shop owner Chris Nevard said she would be willing to sell the instruments "for the right price"

She said the ukuleles attracted a lot of attention. "I tend to be topical with my window displays because it does make people stop and look."

Mrs Nevard said many people had asked to buy one but "no-one has offered the right price".

"I think a UKIP supporter would be more likely to buy one, but if it was a UKIP-supporting ukulele player then even better." she said.

"I think I'm going to have to get my husband to make a couple more just in case."

Image copyright Partyrama
Image caption Nick Clegg is the best-selling figure from Partyrama's range of political cardboard cut-outs

For those interested in something slightly larger, a company based in Milton Keynes might have the answer.

Partyrama, which sells party goods from its online site, stocks a number of life-size cardboard cut-outs of British political figures including David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown.

Owner Nitin Bajaj said the figures were "a bit of fun" and revealed the best-seller was Nick Clegg, whose cut-out had been bought 41 times since January.

Mr Cameron's cut-out came second with 13 sales, Mr Miliband was third with seven units sold, and Mr Brown claimed last place with five sales.

"We're not sure if it's political or just for fun. We're not told why people are buying them," Mr Bajaj said.

"For us it's having a good range and for things trending at the time. It's about staying relevant."

Image caption The People's History Museum has an exhibition on voting history in modern Britain

Chris Burgess, curator of the People's History Museum in Manchester, said there were two groups of people who collect political memorabilia.

The first group is interested in political social history - things like trade union badges, sashes and ceramics, Mr Burgess said.

The second is more focussed on collecting election material. "Classically posters, cards and leaflets, but also memorabilia - hats, mugs etc," he said.

"You might think collectors are a rare breed. From our perspective, quite a lot of academics collect material, and political journalists who have amassed material over the years.

"It tends to be the political geeks who collect things as well, people who have a long-term interest in politics."

Image copyright People's History Museum
Image caption A number of election posters from years gone by form part of the Election! exhibition

The museum is running an exhibition called "Election! Britain Votes", described as a "whirlwind history of voting in modern Britain".

Mr Burgess said two of the most "iconic" exhibits were items connected to well-known politicians of years gone by - Michael Foot's donkey jacket and Harold Wilson's pipe.

"There is an appetite for objects that were directly related to the person who owned them. In terms of quirky historic items, they're really interesting," he said.

"One of Margaret Thatcher's handbags sold at auction for thousands of pounds. They're so linked to the individual."

Mark Pack is a Liberal Democrat commentator and works for a communications agency.

He has been keeping an eye out for election memorabilia since doing his PhD in History where he found "a lot of really mundane items which had been preserved in libraries" gave him "a huge amount of insight" into what life was like at the time.

"It's useful to have longer-term perspective, and fascinating to see the parallels between then and now.

"Some things have changed hugely, but other elements, like talking about local roots - you can recognise the consistency there," he said.

Image copyright Mark Pack
Image caption An election pamphlet from the "real" Ted Heath's election campaign in 1970

Nowadays Mr Pack is more interested in collecting leaflets, pamphlets and mugs.

"I'm a bit of a hoarder, you never quite know what will turn out to be interesting," he said.

"I've seen a Ted Heath leaflet from a time when there were two Ted Heaths on the same ballot paper in 1970, and the then-Conservative party leader wanted to make it clear which was which.

"Given the arc of his political career subsequently, that's fascinating to look back on.

"Often you don't know what's interesting until it's too late."

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