There are times when what seemed at first like a good idea turns out to be not so good, after all. Being careful what you wish for is never a bad dictum.
The current brouhaha over election posters should be cause for reflection on what the real issue involved might be, and whether the initial populist approval for the poster bans was ever thought through in the first place.
Election posters have been with us for a long time. They are an integral part of our democratic process; they are one of the most transparent means for parties or individuals to get their message across to the electorate, but they are more than that. They are a reminder to the public that politics is alive and well, that local elections are in the offing, that local people are putting themselves forward for office, and that we are being called on as citizens to exercise that most valued of all rights – to decide who will govern us.
On a more practical level, election posters create a sense of involvement and excitement. They stimulate discussion and comment. Without them, local elections could come and go under the radar with little or no participation from the electorate. (And make no mistake, there is ample anecdotal evidence of a worrying indifference on the part of the public where the upcoming elections are concerned).
So where is this apparently popular antipathy to election postering coming from? Is it environmental or is it aesthetic? If it’s the former, and the purpose is to reduce the usage of plastic with all its damaging side effects, then why not insist on posters made from recyclable materials? And if it’s aesthetic, in truth the visual intrusion of posters is only for a few weeks either side of an election, and the regulations, if enforced, are strong enough to ensure that they don’t become an eyesore.
And for the Tidy Towns activists who are quite rightly concerned that their good work could be undone, a more-effective remedy would be to impose a levy per poster on all political parties, the funds raised to go towards supporting those activists’ excellent voluntary efforts.
Election posters help to remind us who is running for election in our communities; they spark debate about local issues. They give new candidates the chance to raise their profile and give them a recognition factor, so important when it comes to the ballot paper. It is in fact being cogently argued that those who benefit most from a poster ban are the outgoing councillors who have had the advantage of five years of public exposure, of being quoted in the local media, attending public events in their official capacity, and being photographed often enough as to need no further publicity or promotion.
The notion that we have moved on and that perhaps social media has replaced traditional electioneering hardly stands up to scrutiny (no more than the ill-fated attempt to introduce electronic voting stood up to reality). And, knowing what we now know of how social media can manipulate and exploit data and information, why would we want to discard old methods?
No decision is so perfect that it cannot be revised, and maybe we should slow down the anti-poster bandwagon and take another look at where it is taking us. Election posters are part of a free, open, democratic process, and their use should not be abandoned without good reason.
We should not take democracy for granted, and taking offence at the sight of election posters is a luxury we might yet come to regret.
No community should be too posh for political postering.