SLOGANS THAT WORK FOR WHO?
Liberator hopes it is wrong. Maybe the coming general
election campaign will be a stonking success. No-one knows what will happen, but
the new Lib Dem campaign slogan, as satirised on this issue’s cover,
The Tories are
using the slogan “year for change”. Labour has said it will use
“A Future Fair For All.” The Lib Dems’ “Change That
Works For You, Building A Fairer Britain” combines both the other main
parties’ meaningless clichés into a new one that means equally
Its physical appearance hardly helps. The predominant colour is blue (when
did you last hear someone say “look at that aqua-coloured”
anything?), making it easily mistaken for a Conservative poster, since the
slogan could perfectly well have come from the Tories.
These ludicrous failings are compounded by the absence of the party name or
any identifier except a small yellow bird of liberty on a white background, a
combination of colours that infant school children learn cannot easily be seen.
However, even if this slogan had been in bright yellow on black with
‘Liberal Democrats’ in letters three feet high, it would still
embody everything we fear is going wrong with the party’s positioning.
With Labour and the Tories fighting largely on the same ground, the Lib Dems
are doing precious little to distinguish themselves from this in the public
mind. All the post-2005 efforts to find ‘a narrative’ have come to
nothing as the party retreats into bland slogans.
Who, anyway, is ‘you’ in this context? Change that ‘works’ for one group of people almost inevitably does not
‘work’ for another, if only because they will be expected to pay
for it. The whole approach reeks of ‘we can win everywhere’, of
the party’s longstanding fear of inspiring any group of voters in case
this offends another, and of its preference for opportunist gains over building
a solid political base.
The slogan is better than the infamous ‘One More Heave’ of
October 1974, but that is all that can be said for it.
What of the campaign that it fronts? That at least shows more promise, if it
can be heard.
Nick Clegg has been absolutely right to close down speculation about a hung
parliament as far as he can. General elections from 1979 to 1992 prove that you
cannot ask people to vote for a hung parliament and that merely raising the
possibility may frighten a large number of voters who believe it will lead to
Thus when Clegg says he will not consider a coalition but would look to do
deals on four key policies, he has given himself an escape route from the morass
that engulfed his predecessors when faced with incessant media questioning about
preferred coalition partners.
Of these four policies, taking four million people out of tax liability, and
political reform to the voting system and parliament, will both be uncontentious
in the party and widely supported.
The third, “rebalancing of the economy to put less emphasis on
centralised banking and more on a new greener economy”, sounds good but
may come apart under probing since it is unclear why the second part depends on
the first, but again is likely to prove popular.
“Investing extra funds in education through a pupil premium for
disadvantaged children”, the fourth, is the odd one out, a very specific
policy amid three general aims. It is easy to see why it was chosen (“the
polls show we’d better do something for families”) and it’s
arguable that civil liberty, otherwise unmentioned, is subsumed in ‘political reform’ but it means that the pupil premium will be in
the campaign foreground.
But as Jonathan Calder pointed out in Liberator 336: “If the pupil premium does
no more than redistribute children between the existing good and bad ones, it is
hard to see that it will be popular with voters or begin to justify the claims
Nick routinely makes for it.” Let's hope this
flagship does not leak copiously under the sort of examination the party has
decided to court for it.
The coming election promises to be an unusual one – the first since
1992 that will not be a foregone conclusion – and not least because it is
due to see the first televised debates between the three main party leaders.
These will give Clegg valuable equal time and status with the other parties,
but also present a challenge to the ‘bland is good’ approach that
the party is taking to the campaign.
It will be the first election since the expenses scandal destroyed public
respect for MPs in general. If Clegg comes across as sensible, reasonable, but
just another member of the political class and not particularly distinct from
Brown and Cameron, the debates will not just have been a wasted opportunity but
will actually do harm since they will make the Lib Dems look like just another
Clegg can be bold and convincing when he wants to be. Will those responsible
for 'change that works for you’ allow him to be?
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