With the next General Election potentially over a year and a half away, the next few months represent a critical time for party leaderships to begin honing their messaging into short, striking, and memorable slogans. While the power of the political slogan can often be overstated, an effective slogan certainly has the potential to either elevate a strong campaign or be the nail in the coffin of struggling one. As such, it is worthing exploring the strengths and weaknesses behind some of the UK’s most impactful political slogans.
“Labour Isn’t Working” (Conservative Party, 1979)
Widely regarded as one of the most effective political slogan in modern British history, the Conservative’s “Labour Isn’t Working” slogan cleverly played into widespread feelings of discontent with the then Labour government’s handling of the economy. The accompanying poster, featuring a long queue of unemployed people, was a powerful visual representation of the Labour Party’s apparent failures.
Witty, operating on more than one level, and focusing in on an issue voters all cared about, it no surprise that four decades on the slogan is still brought up in conversation. Even the US Republican Party tried to co-opt it with their far less effective “Obama Isn’t Working” slogan during the 2012 election.
“New Labour, New Life for Britain” (Labour Party, 1997 general election)
After nearly two decades in opposition, the “New Labour, New Life for Britain” slogan was highly effective in capturing the attention of voters and highlighting the Party’s desire for change. It conveyed a message of optimism, modernity, and progress, broadly in line with voter’s aspirations for the new millennium.
While partly immortalised by the landslide victory which followed, it was no doubt a powerful slogan to launch the beginning of a new era in British politics. In contrast, the Conservative’s “New Labour, New Danger” slogan – accompanied by the infamous demonic-style poster – focused on attacking the Labour Party’s perceived lack of experience and trustworthiness, without offering a positive alternative.
The Conservative’s slogan tried to use the notoriety of Labour’s slogan against them – but ultimately, comes across as uninspired and overly aggressive. It’s notable that when the Conservatives regained power in 2010, it was off the back of a ‘Vote for change’ slogan similar to New Labour’s messages of change and growth.
“Not flash. Just Gordon” (Labour Party, 2007)
While not a general election slogan, “Not flash. Just Gordon” was a noteworthy attempt by the Labour Party to highlight the personal qualities of then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown in contrast to David Cameron. The slogan was intended to resonate with voters who were looking for a more serious and substantive leader, rather than one who relied on charisma and style.
The slogan is a strong example of how to utilise public perception of a politician – i.e., Brown being seen is a serious and detail-orientated politician – and convert this into a selling point. In a sense, the slogan sought to weaponise Cameron’s strengths against him, while presenting Brown’s apparent weakness as strengths. Had the Labour Party avoided heavy defeat in the 2010 general elections, this slogan may have been better remembered.
“Let’s take back control” (Vote Leave Campaign, 2016)
The slogan “Let’s take back control” was highly effective in mobilising support toward the Vote Leave Campaign in 2016. Similar to the Labour Party’s 2017 slogan “For the Many not the Few” and Donald Trump’s 2016 “Make America Great Again”, the slogan spoke to an emotive sense of injustice that voters felt towards the world around them and called for collective movement for change.
Arguably, all three slogans suffer from a healthy dose of vagueness – a similar problem can be seen in the Conservative’s unsuccessful “Time for common sense” and “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” slogans used in the 2001 and 2005. Yet, the emotional chord struck by each of these slogans was so great as to overcome this issue, and arguably even use their vagueness to create a broader coalition of support.
“Get Brexit Done” (Conservative Party, 2019)
Short, memorable, and hyper-focused in on a single policy issue, the Conservative’s “Get Brexit Done” slogan resonated with voters exhausted by the prolonged political stalemate over Brexit. The slogan stands in direct contrast to the Party’s 2015 election slogan which pushed the limits on slogan word count: “Strong leadership, a clear economy plan, and a brighter, more secure future”.
This time, the message was clear, and the electorate could easily understand what a Conservative government’s priority would be. The slogan also provided a sense of closure allowing voters to believer that the uncertainty and division cause by Brexit would financially come to an end.
What to expect from the next general election?
Looking ahead, the Labour Party seem to be gathering behind the “Stronger Together” slogan in a push to be seen as the party of unity. Considering the Party’s commitment to devolving greater power to local authorities, rebutting Scottish independence, encouraging closer relations with the EU, and bidding farewell the divisive leaders, a slogan of unity should resonate well with voters and effectively communicate what a Labour government’s focus would be.
While recently testing the waters with the “Stop the Boats” slogan – rhythmically inspired at least by the success of the “Get Brexit Done” slogan – the Conservative Party don’t appear to have settled on a clear slogan yet. This represents a chance for Sunak to put his own distinct mark on the Party, and an important test to see if he can match his predecessor’s talent for culturally significant sound bites.