Conservative Home

« Nick Herbert MP: The civil service reform we need | Main | Peter Smith: The Comprehensive Spending Review - and why government should target the targets »

Matthew Elliott: Five language rules for the Right

Elliott Matthew 2013Matthew Elliott is Chief Executive of Business for Britain & Founder of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

1. Avoid jargon  

The first language rule for the Right is to avoid jargon, especially when talking about the economy. Speeches are littered with terms which mean nothing to the average voter, terms like GDP per capita, incentives, marginal tax rates, fiscal policy, the Laffer Curve, and sharing the proceeds of growth. Margaret Thatcher was very good at talking about the economy in terms of a household budget. Phrases such as "You can't spend more than you earn" was a simple way to explain why the Government shouldn't run a deficit. And Gordon Brown was very clever to use the term “Investment” to describe his hike in public spending.  

2. Adopt the language of the Left

The second rule is that the Right should adopt the language of the Left, who have a virtual monopoly on some extremely powerful words and phrases such as "Social Justice", "Fairness" and "Equality". Another word the Left always uses is “Jobs”, whereas the Right talks about the economy in terms of taxation and regulation. So the Left talk about the ends (Jobs) and the Right talks about the means (a low tax, low regulation economy). In doing so, the Left appeals to people's Hearts and the Right appeals to people's Heads, which is less convincing because it doesn’t engage people emotionally 

3. Use international, outward-looking language

The third rule is to use international, outward-looking language when talking about the European Union, rather than using "Little Englander" language. Eurosceptics should talk much more about how Britain should position itself as a trading nation, not just looking to our immediate neighbours in Europe (which has low economic growth), but to high-growth countries outside the EU, such as Brazil, India & China. This language wins over floating voters, because it shows that the speaker isn't parochial, uncomfortable with the wider world, or – dare I say it – a "swivel eyed loon".

4. Learn how to rename policies to give them a bad name

A fourth rule, the Right needs to learn is how to rename policies to give them a bad name. Who remembers the Community Charge? Brilliantly rebranded the Poll Tax by the Left in the 1980s. Just as George Osborne's attempt to simplify VAT was renamed the "Pasty Tax" or the recent changes to welfare was called the "Bedroom Tax" by the Left. These are all great examples of policies which the Left has re-branded to frame the debate on their terms (and some have said that the fact that they dubbed it the “Bedroom Tax” is credit to the success of the TaxPayers’ Alliance). This is why Inheritance Tax is dubbed the "Death Tax" in the United States. And is why some people refer to the Licence Fee as the "BBC Tax".

5. Don’t use language which isolates the Left

The fifth rule is not to use language which isolates the Left. In the recent Referendum on changing Britain's voting system, the Yes2AV campaign made the mistake of not reaching out to people on the Right. They had the support of UKIP, but they ignored Nigel Farage. At No2AV, we purposefully reached out to the Labour Party, knowing that Labour voters were the swing vote in the Referendum. We set up Labour No2AV, ran a "Vote Labour, Vote No" campaign, and purposefully used arguments and language which wouldn't isolate the Left and Labour voters. That's how you turn round a referendum from being 2-1 behind, to winning with 68% of the vote. And it also shows the power of language in political debate. 


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.