Mind Your (Election Campaign) Language!

Mind Your (Election Campaign) Language!

(How a few choice words can make all the difference to success.)

Old Etonian Jacob Rees-Mogg has demonstrated how a few ill-chosen words can influence or even derail a political party’s election strategy. Even before PM Boris Johnson had officially launched the campaign Rees-Mogg played straight into the hands of opponents by suggesting that victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster had been lacking in common sense.

The comments were a gift to opponents who are keen to capitalise on the image of a Conservative party run by toffs who are out-of-touch with the rest of us.

It’s one of many examples of how the use of language can blow even a well-disciplined campaign off course or potentially throw fuel onto the fire of political discourse. Remember the toxic word “plebs” allegedly used by former chief whip Andrew Mitchell to criticise a police officer? It may not have been during an election campaign but it set the political tone for several weeks.

Election noise.

On the other hand a few carefully chosen words can capture a thought or an idea that may rise high above the ‘noise’ of election campaign hyperbole. In the minds of voters who are bombarded by endless claims and counter-claims from an ever-increasing number of media platforms such words can ring clear.

It’s why most major political parties across the world put much time, effort and money into advertising their core message with a slogan.

Brexit has spawned a fresh batch:

  • Bollox to Brexit
  • Britain Stronger in Europe
  • Get Brexit Done

‘Take Back Control’ is another Brexit-related catchphrase which was used relentlessly throughout the EU referendum. Deceptively simple – it captures key elements that ensured it’s staying power through the campaign. It is active rather than passive. It looks to the future rather than the past. It implies that we need to recapture something that has unfairly been taken from us. And it crystallised the thoughts of millions of voters worried about what had been portrayed as the growing power and influence of the European Union. Was it accurate? That’s debatable. Did it work? Without question.

It remains to be seen whether or not his plea to ‘Get Brexit Done’ will help carry Boris Johnson to victory on December 9th or whether voters will be seduced by Labour’s rallying cry: ‘For the Many not the Few’.

Both tap into something within the UK’s zeitgeist namely that whatever your thoughts on Brexit there is undoubtedly a large majority who have grown weary of parliament’s inability to agree on a way forward. Equally it is impossible to deny the widespread sense of anger resulting from the pay inequality and corruption that has characterised the behaviour of some companies over the past decade.

Reducing politics to slogans may seem unedifying to some. After all, the arguments surrounding Brexit and many other political issues can be complex to say the least.

“Yes We Can!”

And yet some of the world’s most electorally successful politicians know that a campaign without a slogan is like a car without fuel.

Who can forget Barack Obama’s campaign chant: ‘Yes We Can!’ or Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’.

What the language of slogans can do is paint a picture of how the parties see us the voters and how they characterise the times that we live in. The party who best captures the spirit of the era is the one that we are most likely to regard as being-in-touch and ultimately the one most suited to being in power.

Mike McCarthy
Northern Star Media.