The Top 10: Political Slogans

A compendium of short and effective phrases used in political campaigning through the ages

John Rentoul
Friday 17 January 2020 17:27 GMT
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This memorable campaign was nominated but the image did most of the work
This memorable campaign was nominated but the image did most of the work (Getty)

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Thanks to Jack Maidment, who listed the slogans of the five Labour leadership candidates. The only one that is any good is Jess Phillips’s: “Speak truth. Win power.” Keir Starmer’s – “Another Future Is Possible” – doesn’t even specify that this other future would be better. I have done political posters before, but this is a list driven by the power of words alone.

1. “Liberty, equality, fraternity.” Robespierre, 1790. Nominated by James Vaughan.

2. “All power to the Soviets: bread, peace, land.” Lenin, 1917. “True, the Soviets were given no power; there was a three-year civil war followed by years of internal conflict; and peasants starved in their millions when the communists confiscated their land – but it was a great slogan,” said Andy McSmith.

3. “A fit country for heroes to live in.” David Lloyd George, 1918. Much quoted (and misquoted as “country fit for heroes”) speech in which he said “our task” is “to make Britain…” Thanks to Neil Matthews.

4. “A chicken for every pot.” (“And a car for every backyard, to boot.”) Herbert Hoover for president, 1928. This was the actual wording of a much-misquoted ad in The New York Times, paid for by “Republican Business Men, Inc.” Thanks to Peter Warner and Benjamin Dixon.

5. “I like Ike.” Eisenhower for president, 1952. “Politically meaningless; utterly effective,” said Peter Russell. “And they tell us that personality driven campaigns are a new phenomenon,” added Neil Cardwell.

6. “It’s time.” Gough Whitlam, Australian Labour, 1972. Thanks to David Boothroyd and Sam Evans.

7. “Not flash. Just Gordon.” Gordon Brown, 2007. As Andrew Ratcliffe said, “short-lived but great”.

8. “Yes we can.” Barack Obama for president, 2008; although the Scottish National Party used it first, in the 1997 general election. Thanks to Chem 2006 and Paul Romain.

9. “Take back control.” Vote Leave, EU referendum, 2016. From Lee Copestick and Will Monk.

10. “If it matters to you, then it matters to him.” Barry Gardiner, the shadow international trade secretary, still uses it on his website. Nominated by Andrew Waters, Daniel Sugarman and Tom Hamilton, so I had to let it in.

Not many nominations for “get Brexit done”, which was undeniably effective, but perhaps it is too recent to judge. Many nominations, on the other hand, for “Labour isn’t working”, but that was a poster (see above) and owed its power to the accompanying image.

Honourable mention for Chris Terry: “During last year’s Romanian presidential election, Klaus Iohannis, the technocratic, anti-corruption, free-market incumbent, used the slogan ‘pentru o Romania normala’, simply ‘for a normal Romania’. He won 66 per cent of the vote in the second round against the recently ousted prime minister.”

In the “there’s always one” category, Sunder Katwala nominated “Strong Message Here”, and Peter Warner nominated “blessed are the meek”. But Sunder wins with his second nomination, the “unofficial slogan” of Moosajee Bhamjee’s successful campaign for the Irish parliament in 1992: “You’ve had the cowboys, now vote for the Indian.”

Next week: Underappreciated innovations, such as buttons. They have to be underappreciated, though.

Coming soon: Songs with months in the title.

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to top10@independent.co.uk

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