Theresa May gave a speech a few days ago in which she used the slogan ‘Strong and Stable’ twelve times in ten minutes. As a result she is being royally ridiculed on social media, with countless memes being diffused exponentially as I write.
A further outcome of the Tories’ faultless message discipline and the responses to it is that on 8th June millions of people will go and vote on the basis of strength and stability (DECLARATION: I fucking hate The Tories and will be voting Labour in June). Satirising the message will just serve to reinforce and spread it. That’s what happened in the last two general elections and in the referendum last summer. At different points each leading representative of the Leave campaign was torn to pieces on Facebook and Twitter for ‘overusing‘ the expression ‘take back control’. The result of the referendum showed that all that repitition was actually the slogan being implemented successfully – the Leave campaign even consulted Paul McKenna to help them drill the message into people’s heads. It’s not a rational process. ‘Strong and stable’ will have been chosen from a list of potential slogans after a rigorous process of testing it on groups of potential Tory voters.
The science of this is well-known but doesn’t always find acceptance on the left and doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact on the people at the top of the Labour Party. On doing some research I found out that Labour’s slogan for #GE2017 is ‘For the many, not the few’. Although I’ve been following the election the phrase didn’t spring into my head immediately as the Conservatives’ slogan will and tellingly there haven’t as yet been a furore about opposition politicians overusing it. I don’t get the impression it’s been tested – it sounds more like a phrase that our avuncular leader plucked out of thin air. On my Facebook page yesterday I saw a post on the Labour forum about John McDonnell’s 20 Pledges to Workers. Okay, twenty is a round number but it’s also a large one. As Owen Jones has repeatedly pointed out, only people who are actively interested in politics take an interest in what lies behind slogans, ie the details of policy. Each of those individual items may strike a chord with working people but in order to be effective they need to be framed into clear pithy messages whose memorability has been exhaustively put to the test.
Nevertheless, the central slogans have been chosen and Labour leader, supporters and representatives need to put them into operation by repeating them as often as humanly possible. In the meantime we need to stop doing the Tories’ work for them by effectively advertising, whether in jest or not, what May’s Conservative Party stands for.