Election 2017

The strange things that election leaflets used to say

Prospective parliamentary candidates have long relied on shoving leaflets through letterboxes in a bid to secure voters' support. But a look back at such campaign material from decades ago reveals some unusual ways in which politicians once got their message across.

Whether you pore over them, or stick them straight in the recycling, election leaflets are a firm fixture of politics.

Political commentator Mark Pack, who ran two general election campaigns online for the Liberal Democrats, has collected some of the more memorable material employed by previous parliamentary candidates. Among those in his collection is a leaflet for "the other" Edward Heath.

The careless punctuation

The late Robert Maxwell became Labour MP for Buckingham in 1964, a seat which he held until 1970.

Later rising to become a media baron and buying the Daily Mirror, he fell from grace - and fatally from his yacht - in 1991, leaving debts of £400m and 30,000 pensioners without their life savings, after embezzling their pension fund.

Embarrassingly for the future news tycoon, his (successful) election leaflet shows he also played fast and loose with grammar, spelling "let's" incorrectly.

An MP's best friend

Liberal Party candidate Wilfred Watson finished third in Hampstead in the 1950 general election.

His election leaflet carries an image of him on the front and, typically for male candidates at that time, has a section set aside for his wife.

Here she eulogises his finest qualities, including how he "understands the housewife's problems". And it's here where a family portrait is used, with a somewhat uneasy-looking Wilfred, his wife and children - and the family dog.

The leaflet does not record whether Wilfred understood the problems of remembering where your favourite bone is buried.

The helpful MP

Labour's Charles W Gibson was successful in the 1955 general election, but only just - he won with a majority of 225.

Parliamentary candidates today are unlikely to use children in campaign material, and especially if they are not related.

Interestingly, his material also boasts of helping 3,000 people as an MP over the previous five years. "This is a fraction of what many MPs now do," says Mr Pack.

Scoring votes

The Labour Party's push for votes in Colchester in 1951 saw them adopt the format of a football match day programme to show their goal was "socialism" compared with the Conservatives' desire for "privilege".

Not only is this style of leaflet outdated, so is its choice of formation - a bold 2-3-5 shape which is likely to concede even more goals than it achieves.

This leaflet was for the brilliantly-named Xenia Field - but her bid for Parliament failed, as she lost to the Tory candidate. But she did have the consolation of living until she was 104.

Edward Heath v Edward Heath

Voters in the London borough of Bexley were faced with a dilemma during the general election of 1970.

Up until then, only candidates' names were present on the ballot paper, and not their political parties. But an independent candidate legally changed his name to Edward Heath, generating a second "Heath" for voters to choose from.

This sent the Tory party into a frenzy, and it published a leaflet explaining what it said was an attempt to "mislead" Bexley's voters. Just to clarify matters further, it popped a picture of the real Edward Heath on the leaflet, looking suitably athletic on a yacht.

It did the trick too, because Mr Heath swept into No 10 on the back of a surprise victory.

Red is for Tories

Mr Pack believes this poster is probably for a Conservative Party candidate called DFR George, who stood in Cardiganshire, now called Ceredigion, in the 1970 election.

It's notable for being bright red - a colour that is today universally associated with Labour. However, it's not as much of an anomaly as it may seem. The rigid party colour rules of today used to be a lot more fluid, and red was often used as a Conservative colour.

Image copyright Bodleian Library
Image caption Pictures courtesy of Bodleian Library Conservative Party Archive

And the winner is...

This Conservative election leaflet for Dulwich dates from the 1974 general election, and was written in the old-fashioned style of a telegram.

Its "sender" was one Eric Morley, who failed in his bid to become an MP, both in 1974 and in 1979 - missing out in the latter contest by a mere 122 votes.

However, Mr Morley still managed to impact on the nation, because not only did he create the Miss World beauty pageants, he also came up with the TV show Come Dancing, which later evolved into Strictly Come Dancing.

He also pioneered commercial bingo in the UK, so his numbers came up in business, if not politics.

Back in 1974, the Liberals also used the same promotional approach, coining the phrase "Liberalgram" in the process.

However, their candidate Roger Pincham failed to make the next round in Leominster, coming second by 579 votes.

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