The Power of Words: Best and Worst Political Slogans

Words are powerful. I’ve written on the subject of political oratory repeatedly. Two years ago, I discussed my discomfort with the media’s character assassination of Jeremy Corbyn being “unelectable”, for example, and in the run-up to the General Election in 2015, I listed some common politician stock phrases. Here, I want to discuss election campaign slogans. A slogan may not necessarily make or break a campaign, but they can be a powerful motivator when handled properly.

Please note that am really only interested in the effectiveness or otherwise of the use of each slogan here. People who know me know my political affiliations. So while I may discuss slogans of parties or campaigns with which you (or I) may strongly disagree, my evaluation of the slogan does not correlate with my endorsement of said party or campaign. Neither does disliking a slogan say anything about my position on the politician who used it.Here, then, are some of the very best and worst of election slogans.

Here, then, are some of the very best and worst of election slogans.

Five of The Best

Labour Party Election 2017: “For the Many, Not the Few”

Fed up with seven years of austerity, with wages collapsing in real terms and a hard Brexit approaching, Labour timed this just right with the release of their manifesto just a few weeks ago. The meaning is clear both in terms of Jeremy Corbyn’s personal political philosophy and the path that The Labour Party will take as it heads into the election next week. It must be striking a chord because when the election was announced, polls predicted a Tory landslide. Now, we predict a hung parliament or a slender Tory majority. There is still  days to go.

Leave Campaign, EU Referendum & Yes Campaign, Scottish Independence Referendum: “Take Back Control”

Powerful, patriotic stuff will also appeal to a certain type of voter. Leave mounted a poor quality campaign based on misinformation fuelled by the right-wing media. If they did anything right it was going for a hard, emotive and meaningful slogan that would have people voting in their droves with a sense of patriotic duty. Love or hate Brexit, they are three words that changed our relationship with the European Union. They did take a risk using the same considering it didn’t work for the independence campaigners in Scotland in 2014. Which brings me to…

Donald Trump Presidential Campaign 2016 “Make America Great Again”

More emotive flag-waving stuff. Make America Great Again is the equivalent of Take Back Control and arguably tugs on exactly the same heart strings of people who felt disenfranchised from the political process for so long. It appealed on mass to those who feel their country lost something due to X, Y and Z. Both imply “we’re not where we were – we’re less than we were. let’s get back on that path we lost (or others took from us).” Like all jingoistic and nationalist rhetoric, it relies purely on emotion.

No Campaign, Scottish Independence Referendum: “Better Together”

This was a shrewd bit of politicking in my humble opinion. They could have gone for something specific such as “stronger together”, focusing on key specific values for why the status quo really is the best option. But no, they went for something vague and flexible without seeming wishy-washy. “Better Together” highlighted unspoken benefits of continuing the union without coming down in any particular self-limiting ball park.

Bernie Sanders, Primaries Campaign 2016 “Feel the Bern”

Barack Obama was perhaps the first digital politician. A man who used SMS and the internet to rally support. He was the cool President. But Bernie Sanders took it to the next level. He knew how to speak and how to listen to the disenfranchised left, particularly the young vote. It’s in this tradition that he came up with this catchy “yoof” phrase that plays on a well-known internet meme. Sheer genius.

And Five of the Worst

Conservative Party Election 2017: “Strong and Stable”

There is nothing wrong with this election slogan in itself. It’s fairly mundane, typically Tory stuff referring to the stability and strength of united conservatism. The problem wasn’t the slogan; it’s that Theresa May’s government is anything but strong and stable with their continue flip-flopping (or as I wrote on an independent political commentator’s Facebook page “any more flip-flopping from our PM and we can all go to the beach”. The more she repeated it, the more people laughed at her. The more it featured, the more May’s Conservative government became a parody of itself.

Liberal Democrats Party Election 2017: “Change Britain’s Future”

Trite and meaningless. Utterly forgettable and that, in a way, may end up being the fate of Tim Farron without a major miracle. Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of what the LibDems stand for. The problem is that they have failed to galvanise the disenfranchised centrists, the left or the right on anything of importance at any point. The fact that centrists are moving left or right for this election will not be helped with Change Britain’s Future – a slogan so vague that it is meaningless. I could almost see a dozen middle-aged, middle-class business executives coming up with this in a sterile office environment clapping each other on the back about how “dynamic” it is.

Barack Obama Presidential Campaign 2008: “Change We Need”

Obama ran such a great campaign in some many ways in 2008, changing how politicians engage with the electorate on both sides of the Atlantic that it’s easy to forget the mistakes he made. This was one of them. We know what it means but it’s poorly worded – almost like a feeble attempt at a Yodaism (Change we need, young Skywalker, hmm?) With all of Barack Obama’s trendy approach to politics, his technological savvyness and ability to engage normal people, could he and his team not have come up with something better than that?!

Emmanuel Macron's slogan "Together France" is not a great example of a political slogan
Jérémy Barande [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Emmanuel Macron Presidential Campaign 2017: “Together, France”

The rise of Macron to the French presidency with a party that was only a year old at the time (En Marche! translated into English as “Forward!” or “Onward!”) was nothing short of revolutionary, especially in a time when his American and British cousins were outright shunning centrist politics. Macron must feel the weight of Europe on his shoulders and maybe it was that which led to this poor excuse of a slogan. To me, it feels little more than some guidance scribbled on the back of a cigarette packet to be handed to somebody charged with coming up with a decent slogan. At least his party has a rousing and memorable name. I can only assume the slogan and the party name were the results of two different people.

Remain Campaign, EU Referendum: “Britain Stronger In Europe”

There was so much wrong with the Remain campaign and this ill-thought, ill-conceived slogan did nothing to alleviate it. The problem with the slogan is the same as the problem that blighted the entire campaign. It’s perfunctory and focused solely on the economics of being a member of the European Union in a time when people resorted to using food banks. The EU is not responsible for this, but faced between a slogan that served as a reminder of zero hours contracts and “Take Back Control” there was no other winner. I can’t see in this context how the word “stronger” could mean anything else except the economy.

So there we go, here are mine. Would you care to share some of your most and least favourites?

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