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Election! Britain Votes – A look at the political crisis through a history of struggle

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The People’s History Museum’s new exhibition Election! unearths Britain’s electoral history and probes the crisis in politics today, writes Mark Krantz
Issue 2443
“New Labour gives you war on demand” (2005)

“New Labour gives you war on demand” (2005) (Pic: People’s History Museum)

This exhibition brilliantly explains our electoral history. It shows the impact of workers’ struggles, racism and disillusionment with mainstream politics.

Election posters from every general election since 1900 shows how political parties have portrayed themselves—and their opponents.

You can see the pipe that the 1960s and 70s Labour prime minister Harold Wilson smoked in public. 

It explains that he chose a pipe “to emphasise his reliability and relate to people from all walks of life”. In private, he smoked cigars.

You can also inspect the “Zinoviev letter”, which the head of the Communist International Grigori Zinoviev was alleged to have sent to Britain’s Communist Party.

The letter urged it to mobilise “sympathetic forces” in the Labour Party and ferment dissent in the army.

The Daily Mail newspaper printed a copy four days before the 1924 general election, which produced a “red scare” and helped defeat the first ever Labour government.

It was later shown to be a fake—but it took the authorities 75 years to admit it.


In the infamous campaign in the 1964 general election at Smethwick in Birmingham, the Tory candidate Peter Griffiths ran a filthy, racist campaign.

His election leaflet is on view. The slogan his supporters used “If you want a nigger for a neighbour—Vote Labour” is not visible. But a letter of support from the Ku Klux Klan is.

A photo of a miners’ picket line in 1974 shows how the working class that brought down the Tory government in that year.

Prime minister Ted Heath called an election asking “Who governs Britain?” Not you Ted, was the answer.

Visitors are also encouraged to leave their views in the interactive displays. On one board asking people about how they will vote is written, “I will be voting Trades Unionist and Socialist Coalition to bring equality to the working class.”

A series of events are scheduled to address the crisis of legitimacy in the electoral process.

While he has never voted or stood in an election, comedian turned campaigner Russell Brand is also featured.

What stands out most is how the electoral turnout has significantly declined. Only 44 percent of 18-24 year olds voted in 2010.

This exhibition is great at explaining our electoral process, and is timely when Britain’s main parties are in crisis.

Election! Britain Votes. People’s History Museum, Manchester M3 3ER. Until 28 June 2015


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