'Vote for change' – a message devoid of vision and values

By Jonathan Bartley
February 27, 2010

Yesterday, on the eve of their last conference before the general election, the Conservatives unveiled their election slogan – "Vote for change".

It is sightly ironic that the Conservatives, a party historically of ‘traditionalists’ are portraying themselves first and foremost in such terms. But they have of course been using the word 'change' for ages, and as the BBC’s political correspondent Gary O’Donoghue suggests, it is neither “original nor surprising”.

You can see what the Tories are trying to do. It is an attempt to harness dissatisfaction with the status quo. But it is a message that defines itself in negative terms - by what it is not rather than what it is. There is no vision of what the 'change' might be - or even a suggestion that the change might be an improvement. Contrast it for example with Labour’s ‘A future, fair for all.”

Contrast it also with "things can only get better" in 1997. Barack Obama too managed to ride the wave of desire for change effectively with his "Yes, we can". The Tory message however is devoid of the hope, which both these contained.

Neither is there a sense of community. There is no idea of going forward together. It is not a healing message, a call to unite to make things right. A major error surely if the Tories are planning to build on the "Broken Britain" theme. It is also a clear contrast to Brown's recent invitation to progressives to come join once again as a movement. The Tories have no "we", as there is in Labour's slogan (fair for "all") or Obama's "we" can. Instead it comes across as "(You) Vote for Change". The Tory slogan is a directive, rather than an invitation. (And of course people don't like being told what to do).

In short there is no vision, and no values. It may be a message that urges change, but it is one that lacks the necessary empowerment to bring it about. And this is particularly serious for the Conservatives, as this has all the makings of an ‘ethics election’.

The MPs expenses scandal, banker’s bonuses, recent speeches about ‘markets needing morals’, and the progress in the polls for Labour where - in the midst of allegations of bullying, voters seem most concerned by alleged breaches in confidentiality - all point toward values playing a central role in the campaign.

The Tories might do well to note a well known biblical proverb. ‘Without a vision the people (or party) will perish’.

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