To buy or not to buy? That is the question. And when presented with the Edward Heath Tribute Plate (£45 in porcelain) as sold on the Conservative Party webshop, the answer is an emphatic "no". The same goes for the Set of Five Political Thimbles (£19.95), the William Hague Golf Balls, and the John F Kennedy Face Mask (which when worn assumes a disconcerting resemblance to Alex Salmond MP).
Incredibly, the Edward Heath Tribute Plate is also available at the Labour Party and Liberal Democrat webshops, along with something similar but cheaper involving Margaret Thatcher - a Royal Doulton dish (£15) and a bargain even at twice the price.
All three sites tout a £400 set of 14 Prime Ministerial Toby Jugs, matching William Hague and Tony Blair gargoyles (£65), and a Russian Presidents Matrioska (sic) Set available, ludicrously, in two sizes. The overlap of stock is explained by all the parties having left administration of their webshops to Politico's, the renowned bookshop. The relationship has significant advantages for the parties, which are able to sell and receive some funds from all of the most recent political books without the burden of actually running a bookshop. However, the deal also means that much of their responsibility for party merchandising has been abdicated, too.
The result is a travesty in china that reveals much about the state of the par-ties. The Tory range includes five items celebrating Hague's leadership, and only one concerning Michael Howard. And where Howard gets a car sticker that reads "Going Howard's way" - how we laugh - another item hails from Michael Portillo's 2001 leadership campaign. Sadly, there are no items that refer to Iain Duncan Smith.
Obviously, in those parties in which the leader has been around for a while, different oddities emerge. On the Labour site, there are mugs and buttons that read "Old Labour and proud of it", and others which read "New Labour and proud of it" - the party of diversity indeed. The Liberal Democrats are much more sombre, the only glimmer of partisan wit emerging on a badge featuring the euro symbol surrounded with the words "I'm all for early entry". It is sold as an aid "to annoy your Eurosceptic friends" - though the chances are, if you're a badge-wearing Liberal Democrat, you may well not have any Eurosceptic friends.
A transatlantic comparison puts our parties to shame. The Bush 2004 campaign boasts many merchandising lines - all conjuring different visions of America, and featuring big, bold, block capital letters. The ranges include two different "W'04" silver belt buckles, a "Shady Brady" cowboy hat made from "unbreakable, waterproof" straw for $85, and a "BUSH-CHENEY '04" baby bib.
"Kerry's Gear" features the "Democrat Donkey Key Tag" for $1.20 and a scented candle for $14.35. However, John Kerry supporters have badges and stickers for sale at the spoof website GWBush.com. These include some excellent one-liners: "Milosevic, Suharto, Bush: pioneers in electoral innovation" and "I wasn't using my civil liberties anyway".
Bush and Kerry have attempted to connect with their electorate, and most of their merchandise has their name on it. Sadly, the same is not true of the UK parties: when will they realise that their ideal demographic does not include a secret majority of mask-wearing golfers with a penchant for pottery?