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

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.