Political slogans may have become cliché by now, with many being recycled time and time again. This begs the question: how useful are they in signifying political agendas? And how much can rhetoric and snappy straplines actually inform us about policy?
Throughout the myriad of slogans that have graced British politics over the years, the influence had on election campaigns and perhaps political popularity is clear. Slogans continue to remain ever-present in the lead up to the next general election, and the roles that slogans will play in this, will help to prove if they still have the same allure this decade. The slogan is meant to create a pithy snapshot of the pledges and manifestos and therefore it will be necessary to hold the respective parties’ pledges accountable to their chosen campaign slogans. For example examining whether Sunak has put the policies in place to ‘Build a Better Future’ or if Starmer’s Labour can be the ones to create a ‘Fairer, Greener, Future.’
The tagline “Get Brexit Done” will go down in history as one of the most successful ever used by a UK political campaign. These three straightforward words sufficiently captured the nation’s mood, and helped the Conservative Party achieve its largest electoral win since the 1980s. Yet, fast forward to 2023 and we see this language has come full circle, as Keir Starmer vowed to “take back control”, a sister slogan to ‘Get Brexit Done’ that was used throughout the Brexit referendum in 2016. Although Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer come from opposite sides of the political spectrum but use similar patriotic slogans about regaining control of the country, their meanings in terms of policy diverge, lead us to wonder how much weight the words have relative to the speaker. It also demonstrates how UK party leaders can employ slogans to convey various meanings. Whilst modern slogans are a brief and pithy way to convey a no-nonsense vision of getting the job done, they also say very little by way of policy platform and political priorities; as shown by Johnson and the Brexit debate, in the sense that it is far from being “done”.
Labour’s “For the Many, Not the Few” campaign in 2017 earned significant support from younger voters – with over 60% of Labour’s votes being from 18-24 year olds – and the Tories’ infamous “Strong and Stable” message which was in fact far from what the Party were able to deliver in practise.
It’s difficult to talk about contemporary catchphrases and their impact on government policy without referencing levelling up. Recently we have seen the Conservatives rebrand this as ‘scaling up’ and ‘regional growth’ which seems to be a more ‘DIY’ style approach to levelling up. However, what we can really learn from this ability to edit slogans so easily is that no one really understood what they meant in the first place.
Therefore, we must question what do slogans actually mean for the public and how useful are they in relaying political priorities or intentions. Slogan’s tend to resonate with the public as they are succinct, simple to recall, and usually present a vision of optimism and hope – think “Make America Great Again”. Not being able to live up to a political promise is damaging in more ways than one; the recent political instability that followed the Conservatives ‘strong and stable’ campaign has led to a decrease in voters blindly following catchy phrases, and an increase in asking themselves what these really mean with regards to actionable policy.
The ‘strong and stable’ campaign which ended with nothing but instability means that Labour is now twice as trusted as the Tories to deliver economic growth, according to a recent YouGov poll. While this isn’t of course solely the result of a fault slogan, the inability to fulfil a promise that was made so loudly undoubtedly played a part. Mixing this with partygate and the eyewatering amount of scandals within the Tory party, the classic Labour line of attack “one rule for the Tories, and one for the rest of us” has (some may argue) really hit home over that few months.
Looking ahead to the next general election, language will be as essential as ever in obtaining votes. In terms of rhetoric defining policies, Labour has already begun this, albeit with an arguably populist slant, with their flagship energy policy to establish a publicly owned clean energy firm to compete with private suppliers branded “Great British Energy” in an effort to appeal to patriotic voters – similar to the Conservatives’ Great British Rail.
It is apparent from Labour’s use of messaging, which only slightly differs to the Tories in wording yet differs almost entirely in meaning, is an attempt to broaden their voter base. Using a form of messaging that would usually hit home with traditional right-leaning voters, as per 2016, may be a route we can expect Labour to follow in 2024. Yet the Conservatives appear to be determined to fight their way back to being the party of economic stability, with an emphasis on economic growth mixed in with the constantly pressing green agenda. Although the party has moved away from the focus on environmental issues as we saw early in the Johnson premiership, they need to not lose control of this narrative to the Labour Party given strong voter demands on protecting our natural world.
As we eagerly await the final electoral slogans that will frame their manifestos, it’s clear that slogans will continue to play a fundamental role in British politics by helping to represent the candidates and their campaigns in our minds.