How the Conservative and Labour 1997 manifestos use rhetorical language to appeal to their audiences

In 1997, the Labour Party had been in opposition for eighteen years. Such a long period of time to be out of power made them look unreliable and inexperienced. Many voters would be fearful of a repeat Labour Party pandemonium. When The Labour Party was previously in power it was accused of being “too socialist” and gave too much power to the unions. While taxes continued to ascend, the countries economy collapsed and a three-day working week was introduced. Should Labour wish to re-establish power, it had to distance itself from the previous Labour Party, and introduce new schemes to create an enhanced Britain.

It is an immediate disadvantage for The Conservatives that Labour had been out of power for so long, as it wouldn’t enable them to blame the problems in the country on the Labour Party. It was all very well that the Conservatives had been successful for the past four elections, but it resulted in the country’s difficulties being mainly their fault. The Conservatives had many difficult problems to overcome, if they wished to continue in power. In order to maintain the possession of the voters’ trust, The Conservatives had to introduce a new scheme to improve the country.

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The problem was, because they were already lacking ideas, if they suddenly made progressive changes, the voters would have thought that they had been an inadequate government hitherto. To not introduce any new ideas and remain the same would have made them look conceited. To say they could do nothing about improving the country now would be preposterous, as voters sincerely believe that the country cam always be improved one way or another. The interior priority of The Conservative Party was now to do everything they could to maintain the trust of the voters by saying they would further improve Britain’s prosperity.

The layout of The Labour Party’s manifesto is displayed like a newspaper article. Its alliterative title is in the form of “wob” (white on black) to make it look like a newspaper headline and it is written in columns. The Labour manifesto is written in the first person narrative voice (each paragraph begins with “I… “). The Labour Party also uses a religious semantic field to try to regain the voter’s trust (the party’s “ten specific commitments” are “a covenant” with voter’s). The Conservative manifesto attempts to present itself like a history book.

Its highbrow layout, entitled “Foreward”, makes The Conservative manifesto look respectable. The Conservative manifesto is written in the third person narrative voice (the manifesto uses the inclusive pronoun – “we… “). The Conservatives also attempt to make their manifesto seem factual, “The Conservatives are among the most successful in British peacetime history”. The Labour Party use a first person narrative voice in their manifesto, “I… “. The way in which The Labour Party overcome their problem is by using a religious semantic field: “Ten specific commitments are put before you”; “They are our covenant with you”.

This makes The Labour Party seem god-like and therefore responsible and reliable. The Labour Party personifies its name by calling itself “New Labour”. The pre-modification of the adjective “New” makes them seem cleansed and dependable and also attempts to distant the party from its old image. The Labour Party personifies the country: “I don’t want a Britain that will shuffle into the new millennium”. This personification encourages voters that the party really is new. The Labour Party uses cliches: “People who work hard, play by the rules”, to make their views and beliefs sound like common sense.

Labour uses cliches, as it is language devices that are virtually unarguable with. The Conservative Party uses the third person narrative voice in its manifesto. This emphasizes that The Conservatives believe that they have moved forward together. The ways in which The Conservative Party overcomes its problems is by using a declarative statement, which, in this case, is a fact disguised as an opinion: “Conservatives are the most successful party in British history”. It reminds the voters, by using personification, that The Conservatives re-established a “country once brought to its knees”.

In The Conservative manifesto, the modal verb “must” is often used to constantly remind the voters that The Conservatives are in fact the better party and have better aims and values. “We have turned around out economic fortunes. We have fewer people out of work and more in work” and “There can be not doubt that we have created a better Britain”. These declarative statements may sound like objective truth but are in fact it is subjective opinion. They are used to appeal to the readers and make them think that if the Party is re-elected, the country will prosper furthermore.

The Labour Party has left wing views. It believes in the community. It believes that it should increase taxes to re-develop and improve hospitals, schools and other public services for the satisfaction of citizens: “Better schools, better hospitals, better ways of tackling crime, of building a modern welfare state”. Labour wants a Britain with “shared values and purpose where merit comes before privilege, run for the many, not the few”. These are the central aims of the Labour’s manifesto. People who agree with these aims would be Labours core voters.

The Conservative Party has right wing views. They wish to decrease taxes for the happiness of citizens. The Conservative Party also believes that it every man should be for himself. The oxymoron “To stand still is to fall back”, “if we relax for one moment, our hard won success will slip away again” and “now would be the worst possible moment to abandon the pathway to prosperity” are some of the many lines, which urge the readers to vote Conservative so that they can continue to govern Britain in the way which they see fit.

The Conservatives foreground words and phrases that principally correlate with right wing views e. g. “compete to win”, “control over public spending” “remain the lowest taxed major economy in Europe”, “continuing fight to keep burdens off business”. These are extracts that demonstrate The Conservatives interest in business and a free market. It is in such lines that it attempts to rally core voters. Although both manifestos appeal to core voters, they also attempt to appeal to a much wider audience of potential “swing” voters.

Labour appeals to its widest possible audience by saying things like “I want a Britain which we all feel part of, in whose future we all have a stake”. “It is where [The Conservatives] got things wrong that we will put right”. This manifesto makes the audience feel included when it preaches to its readers with “we”, as well as making it appear that Tony Blair is talking directly to the audience. The manifesto uses cliches to encourage swing voters, “the broad majority of people play by the rules, paid their dues”. These cliche are generalisations, which are specifically used in order to make their manifesto virtually unarguable with. Labour wishes to appeal both to the country’s Christians and others who believe in religion, which is why their manifesto uses a religious semantic field. “Ten specific commitments”, “Bonds of trust” and “Our covenant with you”. Here, politics is treated using the language of religion to reassure the voters that the “New Labour” government will not fail the public. The Labour manifesto uses balanced phrases such as “for the many, not the few” to makes what they say sound like common sense.

The use of climatic sentence structure in this manifesto builds tension to make Labour’s aims sound majestic. The Conservative Party, as previously mentioned, uses the first person plural narrative voice i. e. sentences begin with “We”. The Conservatives use the word “we” more times in its manifesto than The Labour Party, which means that it tries to preach to its readers more than The Labour via this technique. There are many opinionated facts in the Conservative manifesto. “[The Conservatives] are the most successful in British peacetime history”.

Political metaphors such as “[Britain under the Labour Party] was the sick man of Europe” attempts to urge readers to realize Labour’s previous mistake, henceforth urging them not to vote for Labour again. The manifesto also tries to involve voters in the government’s success: “Resting on what we have achieved is not enough”, “We have come a very long way”, “Don’t lose the opportunities we have earned”. These sentences would appeal to the widest audience because it makes them think that they share the same aims, and have achieved the same goal as the government.

Personification is used to make the readers recall that Labour brought “the country to its knees”. Constant influences to vote for Conservatives are detected throughout the manifesto, “To stand still is to fall back”. This oxymoron is used to suggest that The Conservatives should continue to rule the country in order to improve it. After reading each manifesto, I believe that The Labour Party produced the better manifesto. It made their beliefs sound effective and simple, and it caught more of my attention than The Conservative manifesto did.

Although I think that The Labour manifesto was better because of its use of language, it could be said that The Conservatives had a much harder manifesto to write. After all, The Conservatives had been in power for eighteen years and were running short of ideas. Even though The Labour party had a difficult manifesto to write, they handled it well, and writing about a “New” Labour with a new, effective leader refreshed their image. Despite the problematic situation of The Conservative Party It is my opinion that Labour deserved to win and that they truly overcame the difficult task of writing their manifesto in such a challenging position.

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