Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

It is time to ban territory-marking election posters

It is time to ban territory-marking election posters
It is time to ban territory-marking election posters

No one likes an election more than me. The dogs attacking electioneers on driveways, the rueful camaraderie of opposing candidates on the thankless tramp from door to door, the gaffes, the breakdowns, the fashion faux pas, even the drama of the pundits on TV on the night itself, the excitement of the count centres, waiting for fiascos of lost ballots and slow counts, then the haggard victors, the desolate losers.

It's compelling stuff, all right, in the right hands.

I don't even mind the fact that our elections in NI have always been anti-climactic; that for all the razzmatazz in recent years, the results still roll in with dull predictability. We depended on Fermanagh-South Tyrone to inject an element of intense anticipation into proceedings.

With local authority elections, the stakes are lower and the uncertainty less charged and, let's face it, less interesting.

How the overall vote pans out in terms of the relative strengths of different parties is, of course, significant. But no showstopper.

Which makes me wonder even more why, why, why so much public money is spent on the dreadful eyesores every party seems compelled to stick up on lampposts.

At a fiver a pop, the thousands of cardboard images of grinning candidates peering down on us mere mortals is, in Northern Ireland terms, a scandalous waste of money.

Elsewhere, where political convictions are less entrenched even among those who vote, where party options are more realistic, where diversity of opinion at local level reaches down to the plucky independent standing on better sewers, as it were, where genuine 'bread and butter' issues, like rates and bin collections and housing actually matter, there is a case for the lobbying and simple visibility of faces and messages which fly-posting can help with.

But in Northern Ireland? In areas where Diane Dodds and Alex Attwood share a lamppost, what is the rationale for these atrocious, large, vainglorious portraits?

The notion that this is about informing the public of the options available to them is a nonsense. No SDLP voter is going to stop in the street, scan the makeshift rogues' gallery of candidates, scratch their chin and think, "Do you know, I might just vote for the DUP this time." That's a fiction.

Similarly, not a single voter is going to be swayed by the number, colour, or slogan on these placards.

Still less, as they trudge in their determined Ulster fashion towards the schoolroom or the civic hall to cast their ballot, will they be reinforced in their political intent by these Photoshopped beauties.

I'm all for the motions of democracy. But the expense of these gestures towards a normal politic is just too much.

All the more so, since the only function of these placards – I repeat, their only function – is to mark out territory.

In a weird way, the locations where placards appear now are being read as signals of tribal ownership. How far up or down the Ravenhill Road do Sinn Fein posters appear? Where are Alliance placards being pulled down? Or SF placards for that matter? And where are they staying up, in areas where they would once have been pulled down?

We move through the counties and – embarrassingly, annoyingly, dreadfully – we are met by placards which declare not the actual political allegiances of those who live in an area, the complexity of those can't fit on an oblong board.

No, what is declared by placarded trees and posts and fences and roundabouts are the expectations, the assumptions and the ambitions of our political parties plastered literally onto the lives of people who just want to get on with them, without being branded themselves as one sort or the other, or having their district or locale branded as one sort or the other.

In a way it's a glorified flag protest, but conducted by all the parties equally. In the name of democracy?

Billy or Taig. Fenian or Hun. The streets pass by, the county towns pass by, the open fields roll by, marked up by our parties' estimation of the political or cultural allegiance of those who live in them.

That's not right. That's not fair.

It's bullying. And we are all asked to pay for it under the guise of the 'democratic' process.

Let's do ourselves a favour and get rid of this overbearing, political browbeating.

Let's reclaim our lampposts and all our public spaces. Let's not pay parties and politicians to lay claim to districts and streets and even open countryside which decent people call home.

Let's ban this litter once and for all.

Follow me on Twitter: @GWalker9

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