Examining the statements, slogans and strategies of what is being said, why it is being said, and the relationship to reality.
Political rhetoric can made persuasive for good reasons, but it can also make the abhorrent appear permissible. It’s worth analysing how the two major political parties are talking to voters this election.
Slogan 1: ‘Get Brexit done.’
With news media actually tasked to be more rigorous in how they analyse political utterances, this slogan would have simply drawn attention to the government’s failures. Ending three years of failing to ‘get Brexit done’, under three consecutive leaders, and then starting a campaign this way clearly doesn’t bear scrutiny – sadly lacking from a too-friendly media.
Dissecting the language shows that the aim is to appeal to the lowest common denominator — the frustration expressed in a phrase like: ‘Can’t we just get it done?’ This semantic void is a patronising example of what Joe Kennedy has called ‘authentocracy’ – in his book of the same name – a fake man-on-the-street style, based on the misconception of a ‘real’ person.
This is typical of the ways that language can be used to mislead. It suggests that because people are sick of Brexit anything goes. Yes, I want my surgery over and done with, but that doesn’t mean the surgeon can use a rusty handsaw for the sake of getting it done.
Slogan 2: ‘For the many, not the few.’
This slogan is in line with the policies. It’s simple and encapsulates a desire for a more equal Britain. The inclusion of ‘not the few’ alludes to the government, contrasting with the Tory slogan that is built on a single issue.
It creates a ‘conceptual collective’ and is about society rather than individuals. The slogan can also evoke passion: a just cause to get behind.
Tone … deaf?
For the second consecutive campaign, the Tory messaging appears almost intentionally poor. The ostensible appeal of their slogan is that they are trying to seduce this mythical ‘real’ person. It might be argued that the Tory party famously includes few who are sympathetic or even aware of how working-class British people live so it comes across as strange – and rather patronising.
The Tory talking points, like the slogan, work to point at everything they’ve failed to do. They are going to get Brexit done despite already having failed to do so, then replace some of the police they actually removed, and will also fund the NHS they have catastrophically underfunded. Is this believable?
Austerity? What austerity?
Closer attention should also, in my view, be paid to the fact they have conceded the argument, having lost economic credibility for many, and claim they will invest in public services.
Their campaign is perception alone, no costings, no detail, no ideological argument. All campaigns are about perception, of course, but normally this is the dressing up of actual policy. They are running a campaign with the language of change a decade into government, leaving voters to ask whether they are admitting they got it wrong or lying. I suggest both.
Labour has put forward an optimistic campaign. But their media appearance needs work, discipline and consistent repetitive messaging. The broadband promise is an excellent device that will shift the Overton window towards the party. Beyond the policy, it is a primer of what is possible, and frames policies on healthcare and the economy as more realistically positioned.
Contrast can be found in public appearances. While Corbyn was comforting flood victims, Johnson showed an outrageous lack of concern for them. His team, as with his leadership bid, have encouraged him to avoid the public.
It’s all about the narrative
Media are far from impartial – and it seems that many mainstream outlets allow Tories to claim anything with impunity. This means that despite the disparity between campaigns and policies (supported by polling) the public is not receiving an accurate picture.
Coverage of this election so far has been appalling and, unfortunately, may be the deciding factor.
Journalist Peter Oborne wrote, in an opinion piece for the Guardian in 2018: ‘In theory Johnson should not be able to get away with this scale of lying and deceit. In a properly functioning democracy, liars should be exposed and held to account. But that isn’t happening. As with Donald Trump, for Johnson there seems to be no political price to pay for deceit and falsehood.’
The Tories have blamed the people of Grenfell for ‘dying wrong’, withheld a report on Russian election interference, refused to investigate Islamophobia, and reneged on one of the most insistent guarantees (that Brexit negotiations wouldn’t be extended) in political history. But then that’s just the real world: the one that matters for the media is the narrative.
David Moorhead is a freelance writer and tweets at @RealityProtocol – the proposed title of his planned book.
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