December 11, 2023
News Opinion

MICHAEL WOLSEY: Why it’s hard to beat a good election poster

GIVEN that we are facing into European and local government elections, plus two referendums on the divorce laws, the phony war has been pretty dull.

A couple of cautious canvassers called and I spotted a few early-bird posters from candidates who got around the legal start-date by advertising a public meeting on one issue or another. And their picture just happened to be on the flyer, mar dhea.

But now the gloves are off and the razzmatazz is mounting. Soon you won’t see the lamp-posts for posters. Performance politics is the sport Ireland does best – so let the games begin.

 I like elections. I like the rows and ructions, the hustings, the crazy promises and the theatre of it all. 

“We campaign in poetry but govern in prose,” was former New York governor Mario Cuomo’s  wry comment on how political idealism is eroded by harsh reality. It is often quoted against politicians, a criticism of their hypocrisy, but I believe we can enjoy the poetry without being foolish enough to accept every word of it. Governance can be grim but elections should be fun.

I wonder, however, if posters ever got a candidate even one vote. Has anyone ever  looked up at a lamp-post and based their selection on the picture hanging there – “I was all set to give Sinn Féin my number one but that Renua woman has such a nice smile I think I’ll vote for her instead.”

Hardly. Yet shrewd politicians spend thousands on having posters printed and their helpers devote many hours to hanging them from every available pillar and post. It doesn’t make sense. But then ‘sense’ is not a word you will often find sharing a sentence with ‘Ireland’ and ‘politics’.

Today’s posters tend to be safe and dull, rather like our politics. It wasn’t always so.

A 1930s poster for Cumann na nGaedheal showed a house falling down. Fianna Fáil’s name was painted on the front door and Eamon de Valera’s head was poking out of an upstairs window. “Don’t prop up a rotten cause,” it said.

Another showed Dev as a crocodile, weeping over an unemployed man. “Dry those tears,” was the slogan, “and vote Cumann na nGaedheal.”

Fianna Fáil could give as good as it got. Its poster of 1932 declared: “Mr Cosgrave will think more of the unemployed after the elections – he’ll be one of them.”

In 1948, FF turned its attention to women voters: “Wives! Get your husbands off to work,” it said. “Vote Fianna Fáil”.

FG hit back with a picture of Dev carrying a bag. “Vote Fianna Fáil – and emigrate!” was the slogan.

The General Election turnout in 1948 was 73%. In 1932 it was 76%; the same figure was recorded in 1937. If the turnout on May 24 gets over 55% everyone will be very happy.

I’m not suggesting that the extra voters in the early elections were all due to posters. But they helped.

Nowadays, a lot of election campaigning is done on social media – and that’s fine for the prose. But for the poetry, it’s hard to beat a good poster.

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