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images by António Martins-Tuválkin, 5 June 2008
According to the English Wikipedia, in mid-18th cent. English elections, an orange flag stood for the Whigs and a blue flag for the Tories, as seen in paintings of The Humours of an Election (see below), one of which shows these as plain square flags in light shades of the mentioned colors.
As noted below, correspondence is given for blue and primrose with Tories (later, Conservatives), and yellow/orange and daffodil with Whigs (later, Liberal Democrats). The current LibDem orange was yellow in the 19th century, but we have this earlier account of unmistakable use of orange:
The Humours of an Election (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humours_of_an_Election) is a series of four 1755 oil paintings and later engravings by William Hogarth (1697-1764) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Hogarth) that illustrate the election of a member of parliament in Oxfordshire, England, in 1754 (originals at the Sir John Soane's Museum, London). Two of them show flags:
An Election Entertainment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:William_Hogarth_028.jpg) depicts a tavern dinner organised by the Whig candidates where a large orange flag is shown propped against a wall: It seems to be very oblong, with golden (?) lettering reading in three upper-case lines "Liberty and Loyalty".
The Polling (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:William_Hogarth_031.jpg) shows an English countryside polling station with two flags hoisted up on makeshift poles, with no lines nor finials. The flags are monocolored, quadrilateral (possibly square) one is light blue, prominent on the middle of the painting, and the other is (light) orange, at the upper right corner of the painting.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 5 June 2008
Didn't British political parties traditionally have flowers associated with them? Is it true that primroses are for the Conservatives and something yellow--perhaps daffodils?--for the Liberals. Could the rose have originated as the symbol of Labour, then carried over to other parties?
Joe McMillan, 24 February 2003
I'm fairly sure that the rose, as a symbol of the Labour Party, is a fairly recent phenomenon, say, 1980s. The old symbol included a torch and a spade.
The primrose was Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli's favourite flower. The Primrose League was an association founded in 1883 by Lord Randolph Churchill (Winston's father) to promote Conservatism, but from outside the Conservative Party. It was named after the primrose in Disraeli's honour. The usual colour usually associated with the Conservatives is blue.
Confusingly, Primrose was the family name of the Earl of Rosebery, Prime Minister between 1894 and 1895 - but he was a Liberal.
I haven't been able to find anything that links daffodils with the Liberal Party, unless the connection is David Lloyd George, who was Prime Minister during the First World War. Lloyd George was prominent in a campaign at the start of the 20th century to have the daffodil replace the leek as the Welsh national emblem (why the daffodil was chosen remains unclear, unless it is the almost-rhyme between daff and taffy.
Yellow has been used for Liberal party favours and literature since the 19th century. But now that they are the Liberal Democrats, they use orange.
Ian Sumner, 26 February 2003