Media Matter Nick Thomas
THE DEMOCRATIC ideals pioneered in classical Greece have inspired countless freer societies over the centuries, while that civilisation's polytheistic mythology has been a rich source of entertainment. But I can think of only one example of overlap between these two strands of Athenian culture. Rivalry between factions of gods tended to result either in violence and torture, or in magical deception. The Judgment of Paris was the only heavenly dispute decided by a human verdict. and even that was fixed with a bribe.
What a shame the myth-makers didn't extend the principle, and recount the campaigns in which the Olympians offered themselves for election by a mortal public. Vote Bacchus/Apollo — the Gods with the Goods. Zeus and Hera for Deities Who Know What Day It Is. Dionysius To See You, To See You Dionysus. Shall I stop now?
As I write, the campaign slogans with which the parties will attempt to woo our votes at the next general election are no more than random ideas being tossed around the pubs of Westminster, but, when decided upon, they are likely to be equally painful — painfully banal. Labour seems to be heading towards the message that a lot has been done, but there's still more to do, which, depending on public reaction to its record so far, could fly or crash. The Tory line will push the notion of commonsense, which risks appearing unsophisticated when applied to the science of government. In any event, the strategists will not have the nerve to be witty. Funny equals flippant equals trivial, or so the thinking goes. But the alternative approach, trying to be sober, statesmanlike and dignified in six words or less, is doomed to failure. The trick is to encapsulate everything the party stands for in a single familiar phrase that resonates through all its policies, and such is the importance placed on the end result that the debate over its merits can easily obscure discussion of the manifesto. It can all be quite fun, but it's a bit depressing as well, this emphasis on surface, on branding serious proposals as though they were just so many flavours of Pot Noodle on the shelf. Do people really care? Sadly, they do. The notion has seeped into the public mind that the selection of a duff slogan or a lame poster bespeaks a more general lack of political competence, just as confidence in a retail product is undermined by an unappealing ad that has no bearing on its merits.
In 1997 New Labour: New Danger elicited derision from press and public alike, because it said nothing about the Conservative programme. It merely sought to demonise — graphically on a poster — the party and person of Tony Blair. If I were the Prime Minister I would be strongly tempted to pinch that image and revive it, with the caption Better The Devil You Know. The Liberal tradition, combined with the modem party's obsession with the alleged inequities of the electoral system, ought to make it opt for Free and Fair— except that this phrase is associated in the public mind with far away lands where elections tend to be neither of those things. Meanwhile, surely Central Office should go for Pound for Pound, You're Better Off Voting Conservative. There you go, William. My account will follow, terms 30 days net.
There is greater scope for originality at the local level. In Oxford West the Tory candidate is a chap I've known for years, called Ed Matts, and he might do well to show some sense of humour in challenging the Liberal incumbent. Welcome Matts has been my best suggestion so far, though I don't think he bought it. But my all-time favourite was used in a student election 20 years ago by my friend David Harvey, who measures 5ft 4in on a good day. 'Oribble 'Arvey' — Nasty! Brutish! Short!
Now that's what I call class.