How leaflets used to look: the 1929 Liberal economic plan

With the economy continuing to dominate politics, it is time to take another dip into my collection of old political leaflets and have a a look at how the Liberal Party of 1929 talked about the issue:

1929 Liberal Party leaflet (front): We Can Conquer Unemployment

1929 Liberal Party leaflet (back): We Can Conquer Unemployment

(Click on images for larger versions)

Large headings, big margins, limited but effective use of colour, plain English yet presenting an important issue and with a potentially complicated message. This is a well-written leaflet.

The two sentence explanation of the multiplier effect in the economy is a great example of how complicated issues do not require long, dull and obscurantist screeds:

As Mark Twain put it, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter so I wrote this long one.” Short and succinct isn’t dumbed down, it’s the opposite. It’s far harder to write clear, precise and brief text than it is to write long, imprecise and waffly pieces. So don’t confuse brevity with dumbing down. Unless of course you think Albert Einstein was a stupid, idiotic scientist for lazily using just using five characters (not even five whole words!) to try to explain complex science when he wrotee=mc2.

The leaflet may seem to fall foul of the curse I have often decried of thinking that a set of bullet points full of numbers makes for a powerful political message. But in fact there is a strong story to the leaflet: the evil stalking the land, the hero with an idea and the means by which it can happen. This is a case of using numbers to buttress a story, not as a substitute for the absence of one.

As with the 1930s Westminster leaflet I’ve blogged about before, the approach to good political messaging in this leaflet is a familiar one, even if the details of the execution immediately and clearly put it as a leaflet of another age. They both remind us that the basics of good political communication have not changed.

For some other historical comparisons between election campaigns then and now see my article Continuity and change in election campaigns: the 1910 and 2010 election campaigns.

* Mark Pack has written 101 Ways To Win An Election and produces a monthly newsletter about the Liberal Democrats.

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5 Comments

  • When did we loose the idea that the workless needed to be given jobs rather than incentives to find jobs?

    I wish more leaflets carried such a sympathetic view of the workless. After all, they are a growing share of the vote, and those whose lived has been touched by worklessness are far bigger still!

  • Steve Griffiths 12th Jun '12 - 1:58pm

    Yes, we have indeed moved a long way from the ideas espoused in this leaflet; a move which many of us have been unable to stomach and have left the party as a result. The leaflet reminds me of early ‘Focus’ sheets we produced with bullet points and simple messages. We knew that any political litterature shoved through a door would have an attention span of about 2 or 3 minutes, from hallway to waste-bin, so it had to have a clear and concise message, like ‘the penny on income tax for education’ of a few years ago. What a contrast to much of the stuff produced by the party nationally recently; I hope someone at ‘headquarters’ has noted the simplicity of the message in this ‘one from the past’.

    The ideas behind ‘We Can Conquer Unemployment’ were as a result of policy studies that Lloyd-George had comissioned in the ‘Yellow Book’ before the election of 1929. Oh how many of us wish that something similar had been produced recently instead of the recent ‘Orange Book’ that so many in the current leadership circle are associated with. Although Lloyd-Goerge had won the balance of power (just like Nick Clegg) in that election, he did not enter into coalition and his message was not diluted/tainted as the Lib Dem’s has now become.

  • I agree, a great leaflet!

    We need more like this.

  • well said Steve Griffiths

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