How to write a killer political slogan

If you want a great line, get a single person to write it. Then get a single person to approve it. Then spend two years and a lot of money saying it over and over again.

I’m sure the Guardian thinks their random political slogan generator is a harmless bit of fun inspired by Kevin Rudd’s fairly insipid campaign slogan. Let me disabuse them. I suspect many of the parties are probably flicking gently through it and writing down a few choice selections.

I once sat in a room of about 20 people, where we were invited to write a memorable line to adorn the platform at conference. Entirely predictably, this process was an unmitigated disaster. After an hour of coming up with any number of lines that randomly sorted words like New, Better, Fair, Green, Future, Britain, Fresh, Together and Change into a new order, we all agreed that perhaps it would be better if we got one person to write one memorable line with a single pertinent thought. We then, ahem, "discussed" for another hour who should write it.

Take a look at the last General Election. Without scrolling down, can you recall any party’s election slogan? In case you can’t, here’s a selection from the five biggest national parties at General Election 2010. Even when prompted can you recall whose is whose? And aren’t they all pretty interchangeable?

Vote for Change

Empowering the People

Fair is worth Fighting For

Change that Works for You

A Future Fair for All

The last one doesn’t even make sense (unless the party in question truly was proposing to give everyone who voted a futuristic helter-skelter and dodgems).

There’s nothing new in this. Name a past General Election Slogan. Most people can name just one – "Labour Isn’t Working", which is a great line but isn’t a campaign slogan. It’s a headline from a poster. 

The problem is, we’ve all become fixated with "the one great line". And it’s all Barack Obama’s fault, with "Change we can believe in". In reality, not even this line stood alone. Other lines dominated the campaign, like "Yes, we can" and the Fairey Posters "Hope" and "Change". But since 2008, it’s become a "mandatory" - and an obsession - to write a great campaign line. And it takes up an inordinate amount of headspace.

So can I make a suggestion to all the parties. If you want a great line, get a single person to write it. Then get a single person to approve it. Then spend two years and a lot of money saying it over and over again. And get someone to say it with affection, with emotion and with conviction. It’s the only way.

It's why, 21 years on, I still believe in a place called Hope.

The likes of Barack Obama's 2008 "Yes we can" have a lot to answer for. Photo: Getty

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Getty
Show Hide image

I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.