Politics Explained

First ‘take back control’, now ‘build, build, build’: Why are three-word political slogans so effective?

Boris Johnson’s ‘build, build, build’ does not just echo Tony Blair’s ‘education, education, education’ – it follows the law of three-part lists, writes John Rentoul

Tuesday 30 June 2020 19:12 BST
The PM delivers a speech in Dudley yesterday
The PM delivers a speech in Dudley yesterday (AFP/Getty)

The prime minister obviously enjoyed his latest slogan. “We will build, build, build – build back better; build back greener; build back faster.” He delivered it as a kind of free-form poem or performance art in his big speech in Dudley, a town with two marginal seats both now held by the Conservatives and a council split between 36 Labour and 35 Tory councillors.

It seems like a simple skill, but it is part of the genius of Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s chief adviser, that he can distil politics to a three-word slogan. In the 2016 EU referendum, it was “Take Back Control”. In the 2019 election it was “Get Brexit Done”.

It was said that these phrases came out of focus groups, as if it were just a matter of commissioning the right research and having the slogan drop, fully formed, onto Cummings’s desk. But in practice it takes skill to pick up on the phrases that get randomly recruited swing voters nodding along in group discussions.

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