By Ben Hayday
Since the snap election was called, the media has delighted in reminding us of Jim Messina’s dictum; that the average person thinks about politics for just four minutes a week. Working at the heart of Theresa May’s team, Messina has sought to utilise this insight by neglecting the policy debate and instead sloganising the Conservative campaign.
If I say ‘strong’, you say… ‘stable’
From the get-go, when the Prime Minister made her snap general election statement in Downing Street, she (thrice) delivered her soundbite offering of ‘strong and stable leadership’. The following day saw a new feature to the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions: a jack-in-the-box succession of Conservative MPs rising to question if, indeed, the Prime Minster would offer ‘strong and stable leadership’ in the event of her reelection. With less than a week to go, the Tory candidates are still relying on ‘strong and stable leadership’ to win them the election.
Critics have lamented May’s policy-poor and slogan-rich campaign as ‘cowardly’, ‘the product of her arrogance’ and even ‘undemocratic’. But put all that aside, and you will see that where parties have adopted slogans, the fault lines in British politics are exposed. The choice is clearer than ever.
We care about the many, how about you?
Every Labour campaign event prominently and proudly emblazons the party constitution excerpt, ‘for the many, not the few’. Most senior party members’ speeches tend to feature at least one usage of the phrase, and candidate literature normally includes it.
But this is not Theresa May-style sloganeering. This is the philosophy the Labour Party lives by and embodies – and the polls show the voters have started to embrace it. The Labour policies rolled out in the last five weeks could all be described as considering the needs and wants of the many, instead of just the elite few. Take the Conservatives’ and Labour’s most notable policy from the week before the manifestos were published. Labour pledged a £6 billion annual boost to school budgets whilst the Conservative leader wanted to bring forward legislation to bring back fox hunting.
Though their policies demonstrate it is more of a philosophy than a catchphrase, the closest thing to a Labour soundbite is ‘for the many, not the few’. Comparing this with the Conservative counterpart is extraordinarily revealing.
The slogan says it all
The slogans cut to the focal concerns of each party, and highlight what each has to offer.
The Labour Party has produced a fully costed plan to invest in public services for everyone, paid for by those who are best placed to afford it. They propose a National Education Service that allows anyone to further their life chances. They offer a 20-point plan for security and equality in the workplace. They recognise the necessity of caring for the elderly. And they provide a vision for the NHS that is both practical and inspiring. All this is embodied in the Labour approach of ‘for the many, not the few’.
And then there is the Conservative Party, whose offer to the British people is oh-so-frequently only ever summed up as ‘strong and stable leadership’. But that’s the point. All the Conservatives have to offer is stone-cold, self-interested leadership.
Leadership for the sake of leadership. Governance for the sake of governance. Or vote Labour: working for the many, not the few.