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5 August 2013

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.

By Richard Morris

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?

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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.