I won’t have been the first to notice how rational political discussion these days has been replaced by slogans, usually consisting of just three words. ‘Get Brexit Done’ seems to have won the last General Election for Boris; following on from ‘Take Back Control’. These proved more effective than – in the previous election – Teresa May’s ‘Brexit Means Brexit’, which was a bit of a cheat, because it was only two words really; and ‘Strong and Stable’, which was pleasantly alliterative, but sounded unconvincing in the light of her obvious weakness and recent change of mind on Brexit. (It may also have reminded senior voters of the old toilet-paper ad: ‘Soft, Strong and Soluble’, which won’t have helped.) Now the government is seeking to repeat this winning tripartite formula with its simple posted injunctions at its Coronovirus press conferences: ‘Stay Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives’. (Currently. They vary it.) Other simplistic formulations that seem to have hit the spot in recent years are ‘Project Fear’, to demonise the pro-EU cause, before it turned into ‘Project Reality’; and – reducing it now to a single word – ‘Sovereignty’. In an age of banner headlines, advertising slogans and ‘sound-bites’, and with an electorate largely uneducated for its democratic role, this seems to have been a winning strategy. More subtle, intelligent and developed appeals – such as Corbyn’s compromise Brexit policy, the virtues of which we can all, surely, see today – stood no chance. The ‘sloganising’ way of dismissing that was as ‘indecisive’. Labour and the pro-EU side, it appears, had no answer to this.
I’m sure the Left and ‘Rejoiners’ could come up with some pithy slogans of their own, if they only put their minds to it. ‘For the Many, Not the Few’ was a good stab at it, which seems to have resonated amongst the young in the 2017 General Election – the one that May nearly lost. ‘Take Back Control’, recycled, might even work now for Remainers, seeing how much ‘control’ Brexit has taken from us. (OK, probably too confusing.) I can think of negative ones to use against Johnson – ‘Delay, Dither, Panic’ comes to mind immediately for those coronavirus press conferences; and we could of course focus on the government’s blatant incompetence and corruption. ‘People Before Profit’ might work again. But we need something more original, positive and pro-European, in order to motivate people in the same way that the idea of ‘Taking Back Control’ did. I’m sure that the Labour Party and the Rejoin Europe movement will receive any suggestions gratefully.
Of course this is not new. Some of us will remember ‘You’ve Never Had it So Good’; and ‘Life’s better under the Conservatives; don’t let Labour ruin it’…. and so on, back to the time of Disraeli and Gladstone, if not before. (And I’ve just remembered my school motto in the ’fifties: ‘Virtue. Learning. Manners’. Obviously not Eton’s; not in that order, anyway.) All of which doesn’t however detract from the necessity of trying to combat this strategy in the present, and with counter-slogans if necessary; however painful that might be to those of us who would prefer more extended and rational forms of debate.