How Not To Writte… A Political Manifesto

As you may have noticed from the wall-to-wall TV debates, never-ending media coverage and eager canvassing in the high street, there’s a general election taking place in the UK on 8 June. We’ve heard a lot of election promises, a lot of denouncing of other parties and their MPs and (on the whole) an awful lot of hot air from many of the candidates.

But if your party is going to convince the electorate to vote for you, you’re gonna need to get your promises, pledges and predictions down into a proper document and not just the back of a fag packet. That means rolling up your writing sleeves, finding the best biro in Westminster and writing a manifesto that sets out your vision for the future of the country, and makes your underlying political ideology clear to us, the already voting fatigued masses.

So, how do you get that manifesto on point? Here’s the dos and don’ts…

Do:

  • Bag the best biro in Westminster. This will be difficult with all the stationery budget cuts and Peggy’s tight grip on the hidden chamber of pens, but you can do it.
  • Set out the key foundations of your political beliefs. This is your soapbox (or eco-friendly cleaning product recyclable platform of choice) for explaining the core values and beliefs of your party, so make it concise, simple and to the point. It’s a chance to get your target voters on board and singing your praises from the rafters (and Wetherspoons), so make sure you grab the opportunity with both hands!
  • Put your big ideas right at the start of the manifesto. No-one, apart from political journalists, will read every word of it, so make sure you capture people’s attention as quickly as possible.
  • Use plain English and explain your ideas clearly. You’re not writing this for the Westminster clique, or the supporters in your own party: you’re writing this for the person in the street. So keep the language clear and unflowery and make sure that ‘Doris, 87, Burnley’ and ‘Sunny, 18, Uttoxeter’ have as much and idea about your policy on education as Tarquin and Tabitha, your research assistants.

Don’t:

  • Fill your manifesto full of lies and half-truths. The electorate are not quite as dozy and complacent as you’d like to think. If you’re going to make a claim or quote a statistic it needs to have the source quoted and it needs to stand up to some scrutiny. That goes for radio interviews and sides of buses alike.
  • Spend more time on the branding of the party and the press marketing than on the ideas contained in the manifesto. Yes, it’s important that the document looks engaging and makes the average punter want to read it, but if the pledges inside are a pile of undiluted hogwash then you’re rather wasting your time.
  • Try to write a sequel to War & Peace. Detail is good, a breakdown of the finances and funding is excellent, but don’t make it so long that people are loath to even pick it up. In the digital age, attention spans are short, so keep it readable and to the point.
  • Don’t include a photo of your illustrious leader kissing a baby/shaking hands with a construction worker/eating a bacon sandwich. They never pan out well and most of us seasoned voters can sniff out these PR photo opportunity before you can say ‘Jacob Rhys-Mogg in a hard hat’.
  • Slag off your opponents. It makes you look cheap and bitchy. Concentrate on your values and your plans – let the others dig their own holes with their hot air and diversionary tactics.

How Not To Writte… A Political Placard

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past year, you’ll have noticed that the world’s going through a spot of political upheaval at the moment (Ed: that’s putting it mildly – I understand rocks are now the go-to housing option: I fancy a little one by the sea, if I can just sort the indoor plumbing).

A UK general election is on the cards, Trump is in the Whitehouse, Brexit is looming on the horizon and the alt-right is on the rise – and that’s resulted in a lot of fine, upstanding and usually moderate people making a stand against the rising tide of populism in the world…

But if you’re gonna make a stand against the political status quo (and not just sing, Down Down!), you’re going to have to dust off your donkey jacket and go on a political march. And if you’re going to demonstrate, then you bloody well need a placard to wave around and get your political message seen by the masses.

So, if you’re sitting down with your blank piece of card, jumbo-size felt-tip marker in hand, how do you craft a placard that’s going to not only get you noticed in the crowd, but will also be so cutting and original in the power of its slogan that the alt-right opposition will disintegrate in a mushy pile of broken promises?

Do:

  • Write witty, funny or scathing slogans that will give people a laugh, and will also lodge in people’s noggins. For UK marches, using the classic ‘Down with this sort of thing’ slogan from Father Ted is always a winner – it’ll be photographed and posted to Instagram and Twitter before you can press ‘like’.
  • Keep it short, pithy and to the point – one hard-hitting sentence of five or six words will be easier to read and will catch a picture editor’s attention far more effectively than your latest haiku on the ridiculousness of Trump’s Weetabix combover styling.
  • Laminate, or otherwise cover, your placard with waterproof material! If you’re demonstrating in Britain, it WILL rain, your placard WILL get wet and your words will run –  and no one wants a soggy pole (Ed: easy tiger).
  • Check your spelling! ‘We want it here and now!’, is very different to ‘We want it where and know!’. Chuck your slogan into Word or Google Docs and do a spellcheck – there’s no excuse for bad spelling in this digital age, so let the little zeroes and ones do the hard work for you.
  • Use a hashtag at the bottom rather than a website, but again keep it brief. This is where size really does matter… and not in the way you’d expect. The shorter your hashtag, the easier it is for people to remember or to hastily type into their social media app of choice, while traversing the soggy city streets.
  • Consider accompanying your placard slogan with flags – bright, colourful, waving-about type flags with your message daubed across the middle. Who doesn’t love a flag, eh!? They draw attention, they look cool blowing in the wind and you can pretend you’re a Soviet revolutionary on a CCCP poster.
  • Consider a pun or play on a film or song title. ‘Let’s talk about…’ is a crowd pleaser, along with the classic ‘I protest at being a sign!’, but flex your pun muscles (Ed: are they connected to the funny bone?) and see what excruciating play on words you can come up with for your placard of choice.

Don’t:

  • Swear or use cuss words. I know, boring, but remember there may be children on your rally with you. So if you do swear, then for f**ks sake use an asterisk!
  • Write a very long, boring message – no one will be able to read it. As we said earlier, keep your writing short, sharp and to the point. If you can’t read it easily in the two seconds it takes for a helmeted riot police officer (or ex United Airlines security officer) to bundle you to the ground, then it’s too long, too wordy and won’t get you on the front page of The Guardian.
  • Use illegible or overly messy writing on your placard. We’re not expecting hand-crafted calligraphy on your sign, but people do have to be able to read it – an unreadable slogan on a placard is a pointless as inviting Nigel Farage to Notting Hill Carnival.
  • Just write ‘Hello Mum! I’m on the telly!!’ on your placard. Yes, you may find it amusing, but there will be at least 10% of the other marchers on your rally who’ll have had the self-same idea – don’t be that knob!