The 10 worst (or best) political slogans and soundbites.


Moving forward, let’s stop the great big new tax on boats.

Slogans and soundbites are the jackhammers of politics. Short, sharp and brutal. And annoying if you’re trying to have a normal conversation. It’s hard to get a word in edgewise when a well-aimed three second soundbite can pierce the air and dismantle any longer argument you’re trying to make.

Of course, in politics, if one side is at it, both sides are. They’re all going to have a crack at fitting their messages into smaller and smaller parcels. You can blame the media for packaging up hundreds of pages of legislation into a 45-second story or you can blame the politicians for whom the lack of a detailed analysis of their message can be a blessing.

It takes two to tango. (Is that a slogan?)

Here are some of the worst (or, if you’re so inclined, best):

1. Stop the Boats

There’s no mention of real people on these boats of course, because the tagline ‘stop the asylum seekers’ is a bit rough even for those who actually believe it. ‘The Boats’ are this weird de-humanised collective who, if we weren’t mistaken, are sailing here unattended of their own volition to take our jobs and change our way of life. If we’re not careful there will be actual 12ft dingies and rustic sloops filling our Centrelink lines before we even know it.

2. Kevin ’07.

Clean, crisp, looks good on a tee-shirt. And some simply hated it. Like any fashion statement, really. This was of course Kevin Rudd’s slogan in the lead up to the 2007 (well, fancy that!) election which he won in a landslide. The slogan was then morphed into Kevin 747 because he did a lot of overseas travel and now everyone’s asking whether it’ll be Kevin ’11 for the leadership again. Surely we’ll run out of semi rhyming numbers soon … surely?

3. Moving Forward

The political equivalent of ‘move along, nothing to see here’. What are we moving on from, Prime Minister? The PM said the slogan ‘captured the spirit of the nation’. However, it usually helps a pithy slogan if you end up walking the talk. Fair enough the carbon price was moving WAY forward but on most other policy points there’s been a lot of zig-zagging, violent lurches to the right and backflips that would embarrass Nadia Comaneci.

If you didn’t catch it, here’s a groovy remix:

4. We’ll decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.

This was a brilliant slogan – if only because it was effective, powerful and was replayed all over the news. In terms of the message? Ridiculous. The subtext here might as well have said ‘anything but boat’. A rephrasing might have delivered the true intent of the then Prime Minister John Howard’s words: “We’ll decide if your home country is war torn and you’re at risk of death which, for our own purposes will likely be no.” But it doesn’t sound as sexy, does it?


5. Great, big, new tax.

When my sister was quite young she learned the sort-of phrase for cow, what she adorably thought was called a ‘Moo Moo’. She loved the phrase so much she applied it to everything. Red car? Moo Moo! House? Moo Moo! Tony Abbott strikes me as a man-child who has discovered the SLOGAN TO END ALL SLOGANS. And has applied it to virtually everything. Carbon price? Check. Mining tax? Check. Flood levy? Check. Poker machine reform? Great big new tax! (It isn’t, but that won’t stop them).

6. Working Families.

In the 2007 Federal election and beyond we heard a lot about working families. They were families (very important) and they were working (also very important). Singles, unemployed folk, the elderly and what not are just collateral in the war to win the middle ground. Howard had his ‘Battlers’ and ‘aspirationals’ which were code words for, you guessed it, working families. You can see the pattern.

7. The Ladder of Opportunity.

This one was a Mark Latham special which he coined during his first press conference as Labor leader after rolling Kim Beazley. He probably should have thought about it a bit more. It’s not that the idea of opportunity being something we should reach for is bad but the slogan itself makes it sound like the beginning of one of those high school vision statements we all have to make before we graduate. Or was that just my school?

8. ‘If you don’t understand the GST, don’t vote for it’.

Paul Keating was a master of the acid-tongue and premier wit, but framing ignorance as a ‘get out of jail free card’ is hardly a top tier way of getting people meaningfully engaged in the debate. But then again, this is politics, and we’re talking about slogans. Could you imagine this same slogan turned on its head? “If you don’t understand the science, don’t vote for it.” Wait. Where have we heard that before?

9. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

And then there’s the stuff you don’t really plan. Like denials. Bill Clinton uttered this line in his defence during the Monica Lewinsky scandal of 1998. It was, of course, false … and she had the blue dress to help prove it.

10. “It’s time.”

Time? For what? A cup of tea? To get a watch? This is quite possibly the most remembered slogan in Australian political history, used in the lead up to the 1972 election won by Gough Whitlam. It was the first time Labor won since the 1949 election so ‘it’s time’ was as much a statement of hope as it was of eventual fact. But did you love it?

But this isn’t all of them. Slogans, soundbites, gaffes: what’s the worst you’ve heard? The most effective?