May 1, 2005


British election slogans are vague and - gasp - verbless (Josh Burek and Mark Rice-Oxley, 5/02/05, CS Monitor)

Six syllables. That's all it took to craft one of history's most effective political ads. The 1978 poster showed a long queue of people snaking out from an unemployment office under the slogan: "LABOUR ISN'T WORKING."

The rhetoric struck a chord with voters, who soon dumped Labour's James Callaghan for the Tory's Margaret Thatcher.

Pithy slogans are more central to British than US elections. Strict limits on campaign spending and TV time mean that the free-wheeling US TV ads and televised debates are absent from the 30-day British campaign. But with voters going to the polls Thursday, the slogans of the two leading parties have been so widely ridiculed that new slogans have just been unveiled.

Labour's initial "Britain forward not back," was skewered in the land of Shakespeare as verbless. And the Conservative's "Are you thinking what we're thinking?" was lampooned as too vague. " 'Are you thinking what we're thinking?' I don't know," said comedian Chris Langham. "I'm thinking about biscuits. I hope they're thinking of something more important than that."

But amid the parodies by satirists and groans from grammarians lies a deeper concern. Analysts say the rhetoric, however deficient, betrays the growing insinuation of spin and professional marketing into British politics.

It's a development, they add, that bodes poorly for the civic health in a nation already struggling with the trustworthiness of the government.

If it's hard to see why Republicans haven't gone back to the Contract with America well, it's nearly impossible to figure out why the Tories haven't tried their own version. Only elitism can have kept them from campaigning on a set of issues that enjoys 2/3rds to 3/4s support from the British public, like restoration of the death penalty for example.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 1, 2005 10:49 PM

Elitism and its converse, class warfare, are endemic to the British political culture, even if neither represents British reality, in an increasingly badly-educated but ostensibly middle-class country.

The current GOP is in power and a 'Contract with America' would be impossible. Their leadership is becoming virtually indistinguishable from the Democrat leadership in that Animal Farm on the Potomac.

Posted by: bart at May 2, 2005 8:56 AM


Except in terms of legislation and appointments.

Posted by: oj at May 2, 2005 9:19 AM

The best answer to "Are you thinking what we're thinking?" is Maxwell Smart's "No. I'm thinking what I'm thinking."

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at May 2, 2005 10:42 AM

"Avoid the passive voice."

Posted by: Mike Earl at May 2, 2005 11:12 AM

The budget is worse than ever and there is no hope of an NST replacing the income tax. There isn't even a soupcon of hope for a flat tax, however irrelevant that would be. The budget remains larded with agribusiness and other subsidies, a maddening increase in the pork barrel, defense expenditures that bear no basis in reality and do not go to readiness or even compensating the troops better, but instead go to favored local interests and lobbyist clients.

We haven't quit the UN, we haven't pulled out of the Balkans, we haven't cut back on NATO, we haven't done a damn thing. Oh, we did give a free pass to the credit card industry to exploit the young and stupid, as if American Express needed more of our money.

Not even William S Gilbert could have imagined a group of criminal clods as embarassing as the current Congress.

Posted by: bart at May 3, 2005 9:02 AM

And we won the War on Terror without much effort and we're in year 23 of the Boom.

Posted by: oj at May 3, 2005 9:11 AM