Election '97: Millbank tendency gives words whole new meaning

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The Independent Online
Labour's Millbank tendency have done it again. Now they are even tinkering with the English language.

Not content with rewriting their party's constitution and many of its policies, Tony Blair's aides have now turned their attentions to rewriting the political lexicon.

Responding to the findings of focus groups, Labour is increasingly controlling the language its candidates use. Using a strategy designed both to reassure and to enthuse voters, the party is developing a whole new lexicon of its own.

Even on the campaign trail, would-be MPs regularly ring their party's communications headquarters in London to check the "line" on a particular topic.

Sentences containing words such as "strong", "opportunity", and "challenge" often result from these conversations.

"Millennium" is a very new Labour word, too. It conveys both the excitement of a new era and the certainty of 1,000 years of history.

The Independent's database shows 55 instances of Tony Blair's name being mentioned in the same article as the word since the election campaign began, while John Major comes up just 34 times in the same context. Likewise "regenerate", "vision" and "destiny."

New Labour is clearly keen to portray itself as a party full of young, vigorous politicians but not to let any hint of inexperience slip through.

Tony Blair has been connected with the word "young" 471 times since the election campaign began, while John Major has had just 379 links. Mr Blair and the word "modern" have been paired 169 times, while the Prime Minister and the same word have been paired only 124 times.

Passion, too, is the territory of Labour in the 1997 campaign. Mr Blair and passion have been mentioned together 45 times, while Mr Major has clocked up just 22 mentions.

"Stakeholder society," once a key phrase for Tony Blair, seems to have taken a dive during the election campaign. It appears the focus groups may have reported vagueness on what the phrase actually meant.

The Conservatives' language has a dual message, too. They aim to spread fear about what a Labour government might mean, and they want to press home the message that Britain is already a safe, comfortable place to live.

Tory words on a Labour future include "danger", "drift", "conflict" and "surrender", while "our great nation", "booming" and "you can only be sure" help to reassure.

Meanwhile, "sovereignty" and "nation state" are making a shaky bid for prevalence in the light of the party's debate over Europe.

John Underwood, the former director of communications for the Labour Party and now a senior partner in Clear Communications, does not believe the development of such a political patois is surprising.

What is new is the way the words are chosen to appeal to about 250,000 "switchers and squeezers" in key marginal seats, he says.

"There's a micro-campaign being waged in pursuit of these quarter of a million people. This language is designed for them," Mr Underwood said.

Austin Mitchell, the Labour MP for Great Grimsby, is not impressed with the gale of paper which blows out of his fax machine every day with instructions.

"What I want is ideas for issues to put over and answers to the kind of questions that come from the electors. This is just endless regurgitation of the leadership's speeches," Mr Mitchell said.

Parties' lexicon for campaign usage

New Labour

Words:

Core

Foundation

Security

Millennium

Challenge

Opportunity

Modern

Young

New

Stakeholder

Confidence

Strength

Contract

Reward

Maturity

Regenerate

Key

Destiny

Vision

Citizen

Community

Pledge

Passion

Reborn

Desire

Transformation

Aspiration

Ambition

Tory Words:

Danger

Fear

Drift

Conflict

Surrender

Inexperience

Dictate

Inexperience

Rush headlong

Weaken

Threat

Divide

Naked

Diminish

Nation state

One nation

History

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