Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Slogans: fair is worth fighting for

In the list of vapid things people get worked up about slogans are probably up near the top. Political parties and movements often feel the need to use a catchy sound-bite to 'sum up' what they are all about, hence Thatcher's well known 1979 strap line "Death to the miners".
For me I'm comfortable with the idea that slogans exist although I'm of an age where I don't get very excised by them. All too often a catch phrase is given far too much heavy lifting to do and they are usually loose enough to mean all things to all people.

The word 'change' is a particularly egregious example which has absolutely no meaning without concrete policy to outline what kind of change we're talking about.

However there is a specific aspect of slogans I want to quickly discuss here and I'm going to use the example of the Green Party's "Fair is worth fighting for" to do it. Leaving aside whether it's a good slogan for a moment I want to show how malleable over arching slogans like this can be.

Imagine every party decided to take up this slogan. Would it mean the same thing attached to the Labour Rose or the Tory broccoli? I'd argue it wouldn't because slogans are like the handbag or hat that goes with an outfit, sometimes they clash and always they contain different shades and subtleties in differing contexts.

For the purposes of the exercise I'm going to give the wholly positive spin the slogan would have for each party rather than clutter the place up with caveats about how I don't like the cut of John Redwood's jib;

Labour: fair is worth fighting for

I'd say the resonance is about social inequality, even after all these years. We might think of council housing, or child benefit or working families' tax credits. We may also think of trade unions or even progressive taxation if we're feeling particularly generous.
Conservatives: fair is worth fighting for
The slogan still works, but we no longer suspect that trade unions and the working time directive is at the top of the agenda. This time it's not progressive taxation but tax breaks that fairness evokes. We may also think of cutting red tape, or removing politically correct health and safety legislation that prevents you drinking acid at work or using dodgy equipment.

If you're a certain kind of Tory you might even think this slogan is about denying foreigners council housing or allowing householders to torture any criminals they find in their home.
Lib Dems: fair is worth fighting for
Again, still a plausible slogan. This time we're less likely to think of economics but more likely perhaps to think of scrapping ID cards or tuition fees. We'd probably think the party was emphasising its comparatively strong civil liberties record and we might even believe they are promising less brutality towards asylum seekers and refugees.
With the Greens I think it's slightly more jarring. Many voters see the Greens as a one issue party and so fitting 'fair' into preconceived notions about climate change or composting is simply more difficult.

It's for this reason that I actually quite like the slogan. Unusually, it actually stretches the imagination in a modest, non-threatening way. It's completely plausible that Greens are about fairness, but it is not necessarily the thing that most people would place in the top three things they say about the Greens.

Drawing the attention towards our policies on social justice, like the Living Wage, liberalising immigration controls, ethical foreign policy and more democratic control over the police is really useful because, generally, people know where we stand on flowers and nature and that. We're for them.

Mind you, it's just a slogan and I doubt they really have much of an impact when compared to door knocking, good press work and being effective councils, for example. But a good slogan can't hurt, even if we can't expect it to contribute a great deal to our political fame and fortune.


Strategist said...

"It's for this reason that I actually quite like the slogan. Unusually, it actually stretches the imagination in a modest, non-threatening way."

Me too.

ModernityBlog said...

Off topic slightly, bad news about Peter Tatchell standing down as a Green candidate.