Suffering party politics

Polling Day eve finds Liz Farrelly at a Design Museum do conducting her own poll of designers’ political leanings. A passion bordering on apathy is uncovered

I’m writing this on the morning of the day the nation goes to the polls, so by the time you read this, we’ll know one way or the other. Oh dear…

I admit I’m politically motivated enough to vote, go on marches, support strikers, read “radical” publications and protest about pollution. Sadly, the odd one out in that pattern of behaviour seems to be voting. I reckon that despite all the fuss talked about “change”, the real reason people are confused about voting is that the major parties aren’t actually offering us a choice at all.

Labour isn’t exactly falling over itself to undo 18 years of Tory misrule, and won’t be repealing any of its more Draconian legislation – the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, Asylum and Immigration Act, Jobseekers Act, Housing Act, Police Act and Public Entertainments Licenses (Drug Misuse Act).

If you don’t know what these laws are, shame on you. If you’d like to live in a council house, have a private telephone conversation, not see asylum seekers sleeping rough, have a night out without fear of a raid, or want to do the job you were trained for, then dream on.

So just how politically motivated or sadly apathetic is the design community? I decided to do a straw poll at the Design Museum’s private view for the Power of Erotic Design exhibition. As far as private views go, it was a bit like being back in the Eighties, but without the nibbles. Lots of suits, and corporate interlopers from Kiss FM and Arena. Maybe design is fashionable once again.

Conspicuous by their absence, however, were the groovy, young movers and shakers and any gate-crashing students. The whole affair felt a bit aged. Maybe design’s finally grown up.

Design students don’t gate-crash parties anymore because, first, security means business these days – no riff raff or terrorists please. Second, they’re busy working at McDonald’s, or third, they’re wealthy and free plonk isn’t enough of an incentive to undergo the inevitable jostling. And the reason why so many of the bright, young and successful faces weren’t there was that the Crafts Council’s Flexible Furniture show was also opening on the same night, and as they were exhibiting…

Funny that, the Crafts Council promoting the cutting edge of British design. What does that say about manufacturing, or about what the Tories have done to both the public’s and industry’s perception of design?

James Woudhuysen, writing in Blueprint, laments that after 18 years of Tory rule design is boring, corporate and safe; this is fine, but maybe if he re-cast his definition of design a little wider, he’d find evidence of innovation which could blow his mind. Designers have been beavering away, struggling through the hardest of times, without the benefit of grants, or arts funding, which they would be entitled to if they redefined themselves as “crafts people” or “artists”.

I did button-hole one successful young maverick before he jumped in a taxi for Islington.

“Who are you going to vote for?” I demanded.

“No one. It would involve making a train journey back to my parents’ home.”

“And where’s that?” I asked.


“Enough said, why bother?”

“Well actually, the Lib Dems stand a chance. But I reckon all those people our parents’ age can say what they like, come the crunch they’ll sneak off and vote Conservative. ‘Better the devil you know’ is what they’re really thinking.” Oh dear…

I bumped into another successful young designer whose partner works for the Labour Party: “Haven’t seen him for three weeks.” He used to be involved with writing policy documents on design, now he’s helping organise Tony B’s campaign. I wonder if his design job is done or if it was a good stepping stone.

By the time we get to the après-private view pub session I’m in the company of a couple of graphic design heroes, and their studio boys.

“Who will you vote for?” I ask. “Labour, otherwise we’d get the sack.” Not exactly radical, but it was a start.

“And if they don’t get in, we’re leaving the country,” someone chipped in across the table. “There’ll be an almighty, creative brain drain…” At last, some die-hards, how refreshing.

Well, I suppose it beats apathy. I contemplate another Tory term in office, and decide to get drunk.

Enough talking about it. I’m off to exercise my democratic right.

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