What would Genghis Khan do?

A blog post by Andy Hoyle, Learning Officer

While recently carrying out research for an upcoming event on the topic of fake news, I stumbled across a very interesting piece in the 19 June 1987 edition of Labour Weekly. ‘FLEET STREET TRUE TO FORM’ was the headline. The article touched on various media portrayals of that year’s general election and bestowed fictional prizes for categories such as best newspaper coverage (The Independent), most biased coverage (The Guardian), the most misleading leader award (The Guardian again) and the environmental press award for services to recycling (The Sun, which apparently ran an ‘exclusive’ that had been published “in some cases, word for word” two years previously).

It is the award for creative journalism that is perhaps the most memorable. The winner again goes to The Sun which ran an article entitled, “Why I’m backing Kinnock by Stalin.”

Why I'm Backing Kinnock By Lenin

According to this ‘genuine exclusive’ the newspaper contacted a spiritualist medium who interviewed famous leaders from beyond the grave. These included Josef Stalin (who went for Kinnock) as well as Winston Churchill (he backed Thatcher), James Keir Hardie, Boudicea and Genghis Khan.  As only a small portion of the actual article is pictured in the Labour Weekly we can but guess the political affiliation of the twelfth-century Mongol emperor.

Having read this bizarre piece, I have tried to compile a list of potential beyond-the-grave voters for our upcoming 2017 general election.  Examining the various party websites, I have plumped for famous individuals who I feel would choose to make their mark in the polling booths for each party. This is, of course, a satirical blog post. The contents do not represent the wider views of the museum as an institution. So…here it goes.

The Conservative Party – Theresa May recently stated that the country needs a ‘strong and stable leadership in the national interest’ and that ‘we will forge a bold new positive role for ourselves in the world.’ With this in mind, a strong nationalist seems a sensible call. Although I don’t have the powers of a spiritualist medium, I feel that my instincts on this one are quite strong.  Queen Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603) is my pick for the Conservative party.

Queen Elizabeth I

Good Queen Bess oversaw periods of tension – both economic and military – but generally helped to stabilise the nation both internally and in Europe. These are themes that are often talked about in Conservative party broadcasts. She was notably engaged in a serious confrontation with the Spanish navy (don’t mention Gibraltar!) She also had problems regarding Scotland – similarly to the current Conservative government. I feel that if the virgin queen were to enter her polling station in June 2017, the Conservative party would get her vote. Try as I might, she couldn’t be reached for a quote.

The Green Party – The Green Party of England and Wales currently have one MP in the House of Commons and are jointly led by Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley. Their website says that the party supports an economy that gives everyone their fare share. Although dwarfed by other larger parties, their confidence and self-portrayal as a real alternative has the potential to fare well against the odds. That’s why Joan of Arc (1412 – 1431) would vote Green.

Joan of Arc

From humble seeds, mighty oaks do grow! Joan was born into a life of peasantry in north eastern France before going on to support the uncrowned Dauphine of France. She subsequently lifted the siege of Orleans and aided in the victory over the English – notably at the battle of Patay – which led to the coronation of Charles VII. Her swift victories and unbridled momentous support led to the overthrow of the existing order. The ‘maid of Orleans’ would see herself in the Green Party of England and Wales. That’s why they would get her vote. Saint Joan for the win!

Close Second – Saint Francis of Assisi

The Labour Party – The Labour Party’s website calls to ‘rebuild and transform Britain, for the many not the few.’ Jeremy Corbyn has fought off many internal wars to remain the party leader and goes into the general election campaign as an underdog. Thus, my pick of historical figures that would chose to vote Labour goes to Alfred the Great (849 – 899).

Alfred the GreatHailed as the King of Anglo Saxons, I feel Alfred would agree with Labour’s pledges. The ninth century warlord overhauled the tax system, levying huge amounts of money from the most productive landholdings throughout his kingdom. A ‘progressive tax system’ is central to the Labour Party’s appeal. Alfred, as well as being an advocate for education, oversaw turbulence within his kingdom, notably leading nine battles in one year. Ever the underdog, ‘the wise elf’ would, in my opinion, root for the Labour Party. He also has some lovely facial hair!

 

The Liberal Democrats – Led by Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrats are tipped to do better than their poor 2015 outing. Their strong pro-EU stance will appeal to many potential voters, including the late Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck (1815 – 1898).

Otto von Bismarck

During his time in political office, Bismarck saw the creation of a united German nation and, once achieved, kept the peace in Europe for decades. He developed strong relationships across the European continent and was a shrewd tactician when it came to diplomacy, often allying with different parties when necessary. The Liberal Democrats have shown that they also can work in coalitions and their position may be similar come June. The party claim on their website that they are ‘forward-looking’ and that they ‘will always put the interests of the whole country first.’ This is why ‘the iron chancellor’ would throw his lot in with the Liberal Democrats.

Plaid Cymru – Leanne Wood and Plaid Cymru currently hold 3 seats in the UK Parliament. Although the party has existed for close to a hundred years, their recent statistics perhaps hint at a gathering of momentum. They have claimed over 10% of the votes cast in Wales in every general election since 2001 and with support for the traditional parties looking tentative, maybe their anti-establishment message will grow stronger. The father of Welsh nationalism Owain Glyndŵr would vote Plaid.

Owain GlyndŵrThe fourteenth century strongman spent decades battling his English rivals. Upset by a dominant England, he was crowned Prince of Wales in 1404 and oversaw the creation of a Welsh Parliament. Glyndŵr held great respect amongst his supporters who rebelled against the punitive Penal Laws against Wales. Seen as a Welsh nationalist hero with anti-establishment credentials to boot, the well-educated polyglot wouldn’t hesitate to put a cross next to his local Plaid Cymru candidate.

Special Mentions – Richard Burton

The Scottish National Party – Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP have made huge gains north of the border but may come under threat on the 8th June. Their vision of an independent country free from Westminster interference has gained traction, yet not quite enough to return a positive result in their 2014 referendum. Robert the Bruce (1274 – 1329) is my choice on this one.

The Bruce fought battles both internally and against Rober the BruceEnglish armies, notably defeating a far larger force under Edward II at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. A talented diplomat, Robert the Bruce made alliances across Europe. He successfully secured Scotland’s position as a sovereign nation and would be an obvious SNP voter had he still be alive today – at the ripe old age of 742.

Runners Up – Robert Burns, William Wallace

 

UKIP – The UK Independence Party have perhaps done more than any other to set themselves as the anti-establishment party. Their desire to leave the European Union defines their outlook as strong nationalists on the right of the political compass. Often considered one of the top 10 greatest Britons of all time, Horatio Nelson (1758 – 1805) would choose team purple.

A very popular figure – particularly amongst the men who served under him – Nelson was able to utilise his personable popularity alongside his Horatio Nelsonunorthodox skill to secure great victories for himself and the Royal Navy. His unconventional tactics in his role as Vice-Admiral at the battle of Trafalgar were the main factor explaining the British victory against superior numbers. UKIP’s leader Paul Nuttall states on the party website that he ‘welcomes the opportunity to take UKIP’s positive message to the country’. Ever-confident, Viscount Nelson would put a cross next to the UKIP candidate, provided he could hold a pencil with his left hand.

Also Ran – Davy Crockett

 

Whilst all attempts to reach the deceased individuals were tried, ultimately my endeavours proved fruitless. As such, none of those listed above were available for comment.

Election! Britain Votes: the results are in!

Volunteer Amber Greenall-Heffernan dissects our visitors responses to questions posed to them in Election! Britain Votes.

As part of our recent ‘Election! Britain Votes’ exhibition, we asked visitors to do a ballot paper vote on certain issues surrounding elections and the government. In total we had almost 2,800 responses! A lot of people also left comments and wrote their opinions on the ballot papers which proved for interesting debate. Here are the results –

Our first question was:

Would having an elected House of Lords make our democracy more representative and therefore fairer?

Parliament is made up of two chambers; the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The House of Commons is where elected MPs debate laws. Once a bill is approved in the House of Commons, it is then reviewed by the House of Lords. The House of Lords is an unelected chamber and peerages can be titles passed down the generations, spiritual peers (for Bishops and Archbishops of the Church of England) or given by a panel which includes the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

For this question, 78.1% voted Yes and their responses included comments such as “Yes but only if they still are experts in their fields” and “Yes, or appointed from society”.

21.9% voted No for this question. One visitor commented that the House of Lords “needs people who have expertise and cannot be strongly influenced by whips”. Another pointed out that for democracy to be fair, we need representatives from all areas of life, and thus appointing Lords works too. There were also quite a few people who responded and said that instead, we should get rid of the House of Lords altogether!

Ballot Paper with Comments

The next question was:

In order to increase the number of female MPs should parties have to meet quotas for female candidates?

In the 2010-2015 government 22% of MPs were female. The 2015 General Election saw an increase in female MPs, who now make up 29% of the government. However, there are questions of how representative this is. A common criticism of the House of Commons is that it does not reflect the composition of the population, of which 51% is female.

The idea of quotas for female MPs is often widely debated. The results for this question were very close – 52.2% voted Yes but many of these respondents commented that it should only be a temporary measure “until the inequality is changed”. Many respondents also believed that the same should be done for MPs from ethnic minority backgrounds, as in 2010 only 27 MPs (out of 650) were from an ethnic minority.

For the 47.8% that voted No, many believed that “positive discrimination is still discrimination”, and candidates should be elected on their talent alone. Otherwise, as one visitor pointed out, it would undermine the basis on which they were elected.

Next, we asked:

Should we lower the voting age to 16 years old?

For the Scottish independence referendum in September 2014, the voting age was reduced from 18 to 16. The referendum had a record-breaking turnout of 84.5% and more than 100,000 of these voters were 16-17 year olds. There is some debate to whether the voting age should be lowered; the Liberal Democrats promised it in their 2010 manifesto, Labour backed it in their 2015 Manifesto but the Conservative Party opposes it.

Similarly, the results on this question were divided. 53.9% of respondents voted Yes, many citing that 16 year olds are classed as adults in other aspects of life and so they should also be able to vote. A lot also voted Yes but on the condition that politics is taught as a core subject in schools.

On the other hand, 46.1% voted No, one visitor stating that voting is beyond comprehension at that age and “16 year olds are not mature enough to vote”. Interestingly enough, the House of Lords very recently backed an amendment to give 16 and 17 year olds the vote in council elections, with plans to do the same for the EU referendum later this year.

Perhaps one of the most contentious questions we asked was:

Should we allow prisoners to vote?Ballot Paper

When people are sent to prison, they are no longer allowed to vote. In 2013, the Joint Committee published a report on the issue of prisoners’ voting eligibility. In this report, they recommended that prisoners should be able to apply to register to vote 6 months before their scheduled release date.

The response to this question was quite split. 32.3% voted ‘Yes, All Prisoners’, many believing that prisoners have the right to vote, as they have human rights and should be able to speak for themselves. One visitor asked, “How else will we achieve prison reform?”

A lot of responses were indecisive on the subject explaining that the issue was undoubtedly complicated and 30.2% voted ‘Yes, Some Prisoners’ as they think that voting should be allowed for some, dependent on their crime and release date.

37.5% voted No because they believe prisoners lose their right to vote with their freedom. One visitor said that prisoners have “committed crime and must give up their right” and that they should wait until they are released to vote.

We also asked:

Should the UK adopt a different voting system?

In the UK we currently have the voting system ‘First Past the Post’. This means that whichever political party has the most votes, wins. However, this is seen by some to produce unrepresentative results, and other voting systems such as Proportional Representation (PR) and Alternative Voting (AV) have been suggested instead. PR is a system which makes the seats won proportional to the percentage of votes, and AV is a system in which voters rank their candidates in order of preference.

An overwhelming 51% voted Yes for Proportional Representation and 20.2% voted Yes for AV. 28.8% voted to keep First Past the Post as one visitor commented: “I used to think PR was a good idea, but post-election I’m glad UKIP only got 1 MP despite the percentage of votes they received!”

Quite a few people also wrote that they would rather have a Single Transferable Vote which is a form of proportional representation which allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference.

And, our final question was:

Should the Queen still play a part in the political process?

As our exhibition explained, the Queen has certain roles in Parliament. She appoints a new government, opens parliament each year, dissolves parliament before an election and signs bills into laws. She has the right to vote but chooses not to, in order to stay politically neutral.

41.3% voted Yes to the Queen still playing a part in the political process as she is the head of state. One visitor wrote: “She is more than just a figurehead, she is our leader!”

58.7% however, voted No, some visitors calling for an elected head of state, some believed that she has no real power, and some visitors wrote that the monarchy should be abolished instead.

One of the aims of the Election! exhibition was to engage visitors and to provide a space where visitors, researchers, activists and museum staff could get involved and debate election issues. The engagement within the exhibition has been incredible, and it has been very interesting looking through all the responses. Did you vote in our ballot? What do you think?

Votegraphy: digital photography

A guest blog by Anthony Firmin, WEA course tutor

Votegraphy- digital photography WEA course @ People's History MuseumWorkers’ Education Association (WEA) in association with the People’s History Museum are presenting a seven week photography course to run alongside the current exhibition: Election! Britain Votes

So, with the excitement of Election 2015 over, the ballot papers counted and a new government appointed it is time to reflect and look at photography, voting and the issues that surround elections.

The course will cover technical and creative aspects of photography and there will be an emphasis on documenting the home, our lives and social issues.  Additionally we will be having a tour of the exhibits as well as visiting the museum’s Labour History Archive & Study Centre.

One of the outcomes from the course will be to put together a book of students’ photographs taken during the course.

This looks to be a really interesting and varied course and both the People’s History Museum and WEA look forward to you coming along and taking part.

WEA course Votegraphy: digital photography runs from Friday 5 June 2015 – Friday 17 July, 9.00am -12.00pm           

*Please note this is a seven week course; attendees are required to book onto all seven weeks of the course*

Suitable for adults aged 19 and over, all levels and abilities welcome.

Share your voting memories

COL131COL130A post by volunteer Amber Greenall-Heffernan

In the build up to the General Election on the 7th May, we have been asking visitors to share their voting memories in the Election! exhibition here at the People’s History Museum. We have had a variety of responses, and visitors have shared memories such as voting in the EEC referendum in 1975, students in university celebrating the election result in 1997 and even bumping into exes at the polling station!

A handful of people seem disillusioned, saying they have never voted and believe it doesn’t change anything, but overall the responses havCOL132e been positive. Many visitors consider voting to be a democratic right and have written about the importance of having a vote in a democracy. One visitor believed that voting is a right we take for granted when others are risking their lives across the world to have a vote and another said that everyone has the right to be able to say how we live together in a society.

 

IMG_0715A common theme running through the responses is the sacrifices that groups such as the Chartists and Suffragettes made for the right to vote. Michael Carter, pictured, explains why he will be voting this year:

“Due to the suffragette movement and in particular Emily Davison, who stepped in front of King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913 in favour of women receiving the vote, I consider it a privilege and a necessity to vote. One lady lost her life for the chance to have her say therefore in memory of her I must vote.”

In our exhibition, we have also been asking if people will be voting in the General Election this year and why. Again, a lot of people have responded with exercising theCOL133 right to vote because of the historic struggle for voting rights. But what is also interesting is the overwhelming response from young people who are not old enough to vote but wish that they could, as well as the excitement from first-time voters.

What are your voting memories? Will you be voting in this year’s General Election and why?

 

 

 

‘How Election! shaped my political views’

Election_Lock-UpSixteen year old work experience student Sylvie Copley provides her thoughts on the parties after spending two and half days working on Election! Britain Votes. 

When I started work experience at the museum I knew nothing about politics – apart from that the man in charge is a Conservative. Now after two days working on Election! Britain Votes I feel as though I can give a justifiable opinion on the current situation.

I got my first insight into the world of politics and how the voting system works from looking round the exhibition. From initial viewing I had made up my mind that I was a supporter of the Green Party – that didn’t last long. After spending a bit more time there, I overheard a TV interview of the leader of the Green Party, Natalie Bennett and quickly changed my mind.

My next job was to sort out the voting slips for the public which had 6 questions for them to ‘vote’ with and I recorded the details here.

A lot of the responses had very extreme responses which aided my opinion on the questions. For example, the government are ‘trying to reduce population by poisoning us e.g. cancer.’ – Which I knew I didn’t agree with. Others however, I did agree with such as example ‘It’s patronising to suggest women can only win if male competition is removed.’

On my second day I looked more at each of the parties. I was asked to find and print off many of the election posters for each of the parties and so got a tiny insight into what each of them meant. From these, I had decided that one’s targeting other parties obviously didn’t have enough to say about themselves and I most definitely disagreed with the UKIP poster about paying for maths and science students to be educated for free – our future does not just revolve around numbers!

However some visitors of the museum disagree with me. As one of my final tasks I had to collect and record their responses to the four questions. A response I got – in favour of the party I so disagreed was ‘UKIP or in the absence a decent fascist party.’ a comment which I did not agree on. None-the-less each opinion which was written (even the quite aggressive ones!) moulded my opinion of answering these questions. The questions were:

  1. Will you be voting and why? – ‘Yes- There are too many people voting in pointless ‘games’ such as ‘I’m a celebrity’ and ‘Big Brother.’ – get off your arses Britain and vote for better terms and conditions’ and ‘Yes – People fought and died to let this woman have a vote!’.
  2. Why do you think voter turnout has been so low in recent years? – ‘A lack of connection between mainstream politics and real change in people’s lives’ and ‘People are fed up with sleaze, dishonesty, and control by corporate entities, bank scandals, promises unfulfilled’
  3. What is your prediction for this year’s general election? – ‘With a bit of luck this government will be out on its ear. HURRAH!’ and ‘Whoever wins, the government will remain in power.’
  4. What qualities do you want in an MP? – ‘Tall, dark and handsome.’ And ‘Don’t vote for a party. Vote for a person. Someone who will represent local interests.’

Many of the responses I picked were for their comedy, passion and simply because the argument was good. Through the visitors opinions at the exhibition I have been taught any different opinions and extreme ideas within politics. I have come to realise that many people get very aggressive in the way our countries ran – however I believe by sticking to voting we can continue to have our say and have no need for the aggression at all.

This led me on to researching each of the three main parties, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party. Each of which I was not impressed! To sum it up, I found the Labour Party wanted to tax the rich, and Lib-Dems were stuck in between and Conservatives hadn’t really done much! As much as I agree that a lot of things politicians promise do not get done, surely we should carry on voting for the member of our constituency. In the long run politicians will carry on changing, but in the short run the people who make the biggest difference to our lives are our local representatives, our vote therefore will still count.

Election! Britain Votes: Results round one

Work experience student Sylvie Copley has analysed the first wave of responses to questions asked in our current changing exhibition Election! Britain Votes. 

Election_Lock-UpElection! Britain Votes opened on Saturday. As well finding out more about how elections work, visitors can share their opinion on our electoral system. We’ve already had 116 responses to our ballot paper questions.

  1. Would having an elected House of Lords make our democracy more representative, and therefore fairer?
  2. – 84% Yes and 16% No.
  3. In order to increase the number of female MPs should parties have to meet quotas for female candidates?
  4. – 52% Yes and 48% No.
  5. Should we lower the voting age to 16 years old?
  6. – 48% Yes and 52% No.
  7. Should we allow prisoners to vote?
  8. – 32% Yes, 30% Yes, but only some, dependent on their crime and 38% No.
  9. Should the UK adopt a different voting system?
  10. – 50% Yes, proportional representation, 23% Yes, alternative voting and 27% No, keep first past the post.
  11. Should the queen still play a part in the political process?
  12. – 39% Yes and 61% No.

ImageSome visitors gave a dissenting opinion on the ballot papers such as ‘This is a protest vote, it’s all a load of rubbish’. One conspiracy theorist even went as far as saying the government are ‘trying to reduce population by poisoning us e.g. cancer.’

Others gave responses for their votes. ‘It’s patronising’ one respondent said, ‘to suggest women can only win if male competition is removed.’ Although as shown above, the rest of the voters did not see this as clear cut. The most surprising response was the majority vote opting for proportional representation instead of our current system – even though in 2010 when a referendum was held, the nation declined the change.

Come and have your say. Election! Britain Votes is on display until the 28 June 2015.