Belfast Telegraph

Fionola Meredith: Pointless, ugly election posters are more about marking out territory than winning votes

Eyesore placards are undignified, bad for the planet and belong in the rubbish bin, says Fionola Meredith

A satirical election poster for the Same Old Same Old Party, created by the Imagine festival
A satirical election poster for the Same Old Same Old Party, created by the Imagine festival
Fionola Meredith

By Fionola Meredith

First one goes up, then another, mysteriously appearing like toadstools in the night. Before you know it, every blinking lamp post and telegraph pole is stacked high with enormous pictures of local politicians.

God knows it's grim enough sitting in congested traffic in the mornings, without being continually menaced by the super-sized mushes of election candidates, gazing down on you with manic eyes and big fake grins.

Yesterday morning, on a lovely spring day, I woke up, threw back the curtains, and was immediately confronted with the gigantic bearded face of an Ulster Unionist wannabe councillor, peering in at me from a lamp post across the street.

It can only be a matter of time before he's joined by a gaggle of Duppers, Shinners and assorted others, all sullying the view.

Allowing political parties to plaster their posters all over the highways and byways is a really bizarre way to do democracy.

They look monstrously ugly - the posters, I mean, not the politicians, but let's admit that nobody appears at their best when their face is magnified to five times its natural size.

We have strict laws against fly-posting and littering, but a special dispensation prevails during election season which temporarily allows this weird form of officially sanctioned street vandalism.

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But why is it allowed? What possible function does it serve?

Seriously, does anybody decide to vote for a politician because they have seen their grinning mug on a lamp post and thought, 'Oh yes, I'll go for her, she looks like a nice, decent person'?

Conversely, does anyone think, 'Hell, no, I'm not voting for him, he looks like a bin-lid'?

Of course not. Those of us who can still bring ourselves to vote, given the calamitous state of local politics and the largely uninspiring array of council candidates, won't make our choice in the voting booth based on a politician's phizzog.

The scramble to lash these pointless things to telegraph poles is really about staking out territory - our number one cultural obsession in Northern Ireland.

Who's taking up most space, who's biggest and brightest, who's at the top of the pile.

Which is why the fake election posters created by the Imagine festival, showing a sleazy politician from the Same Old Same Old Party, urging people to 'Vote for me or someone just like me' in order to keep out 'themmuns', were refreshing.

Some people got sniffy about the spoof campaign because they thought it was anti-democratic, but I believe that local democracy can only be boosted when a kick like this is applied to its corpulent, complacent rear. Otherwise we will just spin in the same old circles for another few centuries.

Other places seem to manage to hold their elections with more dignity than we are capable of achieving. In some European countries, posters are limited to specific areas, with allocated space for each candidate. Here, we have a mad thrash to plaster political propaganda on every available surface. It's embarrassing.

And it's driven by a ridiculous form of teenage Fomo - the fear of missing out. No party wants to be the one to say no to election posters because they don't want to exclude themselves from the highly coveted lamp post space, like a distraught adolescent who's been left out of her mates' selfies.

We are not entirely alone in this matter: come election time in the South, you can barely move for the plague of political posters.

A Green Party senator, Grace O'Sullivan, has called for them to be banned because of the significant amount of plastic waste that they generate, which usually can't be recycled.

She also correctly points out that they can cause danger to cyclists, pedestrians and the visually impaired.

Still, they have their uses. During the last Assembly election campaign, a friend of mine, who enjoys the odd practical joke, stole a poster of the former DUP politician Jonathan Bell from a traffic island. Then she took it home and hid it in her teenage son's bed, so that when he pulled the covers back, the former Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment was grinning up at him from the pillow.

The memory of her son's reaction reduces her to helpless tears of laughter.

My friend still has that poster, which, following the RHI scandal, is probably a collector's item by now. I'm sure she'd be willing to lend it to Arlene Foster's husband, should he wish to try a similar joke on his wife.

But otherwise, it really does belong in the bin - like all the rest of them.

Belfast Telegraph


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