Friday, December 13, 2019

A thought on the election: the power of 3 words

Quite a few years ago, I went to a training session on communication for churches. In one section, they discussed mission statements. All too often church mission statements on noticeboards are lengthy paragraphs of how the church will worship more faithfully, care more lovingly, serve the community and several more laudable and Christian aims.

The problem with that, according to our speaker is that few remember or even read them to the end. They may be a useful reference document for a church council, but they won't galvanise a vision. What was needed was something more concise, and the examples he gave were perestroika and rainbow nation. In the Soviet Union as it crumbled, and in South Africa emerging from apartheid, very simple phrases or even a single word captured the aspirations of a nation and even entered the language of other countries. Looking back we can analyse and suggest they may not have achieved what they hoped for, but at the time they were very effective.

At the 2016 referendum, the Leave campaign coined "take back control", and in this election Boris Johnson and his cohorts kept saying "get Brexit done". Both phrases beg all kinds of questions, fail to stand up to rigorous intellectual scrutiny, and can get dismissed as empty. The point that was missed by those who mocked was that people remembered 3 words, and they meant that the focus came back again and again to the issue each campaign wanted dead centre, and kept attention away from more awkward questions or more nuanced arguments.

The remain campaign had no such equivalent phrase to counter the brexiters in 2016. In the election campaign, Labour's take on Brexit was complicated and had changed over the previous months, meaning the campaign could only come up with adding the derivative phrase "get Brexit sorted" as part of a much longer explanation.

A three-word phrase can be dismissed as a vacuous slogan, but Dominic Cummings and his team understood that the detail isn't important at impact. You can deal with that later - get the phrase in people's heads and the fewer words the better.

We probably won't have a General Election again  until 2024, but whenever it comes, don't underestimate the power of 3 words.

No comments: