Build back better: Who said it first — Joe Biden or Boris Johnson?

Conservative and Democrat have exactly the same slogan for their economic-recovery plan 

Adam Forrest
Thursday 05 November 2020 11:05 GMT
Boris Johnson says government will 'build back better and build back bolder'

Joe Biden and Boris Johnson could soon be forced to form an uneasy alliance — should the Democrat prevail over Donald Trump’s legal challenges in the US presidential election.

The former vice president may not be a fan of the British prime minster, but they do have one thing in common. They are extremely fond of the “build back better” slogan when talking about their economic plans.

Both politicians have been peppering their speeches with the promise, using it to suggest a fairer and more prosperous future awaits after our recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

So which of them had it first it? Who stole from whom? 

Mr Johnson formally “unveiled” the slogan at Exeter College on 29 September — using it as a backdrop and throughout his speech about jobs and training. However, Mr Biden had launched his own “build back better” recovery plan even earlier — on 9 July.

When it comes to more casual use of the phrase during 2020, things get murkier. Mr Johnson first used the line “we owe it to future generations to build back better” way back on 28 May, and used it again on 30 June.  

So when Mr Biden came to say the phrase on 9 July — “we have a great opportunity to build back and to build back better” — the Trump campaign was able to accuse the Democrat of “plagiarising foreign politicians”.

It turns out that neither the Conservative Party nor the Democratic Party actually came up with the alliterative slogan. The phrase comes from disaster relief management, rather than politics.  

It was first used by the United Nations in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami — but wasn’t formalised into a structure until 2015, when Build Back Better (BBB) became part of the UN’s official “risk reduction framework” to help prevent future disasters.

It did not catch on in the world of political spin until after the pandemic stuck and lockdowns caused economies around the world to nosedive.  

New York governor Andrew Cuomo was the first major politician on either side of the Atlantic to use it when talking about his own state’s recovery plan in April of this year.

New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern has since adopted the phrase, while Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has talked about the opportunity to “build back fairer and stronger”.

A group of left-leaning campaigning organisations in the UK — including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants — recently launched a new, joint campaign called Build Back Better.  

Keen that it should not remain rhetoric, the groups want the government to use the pandemic to address “deep-seated inequalities in our society that mean the most vulnerable people have been hit the hardest”.

So neither Mr Johnson nor Mr Biden should expect to get exclusive use of the phrase in the long slog ahead towards betterment.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in