Page last updated at 15:56 GMT, Thursday, 8 October 2009 16:56 UK

Secrets of the conference soundbite

By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News, Conservative Party conference

David Cameron
David Cameron used the words change and together frequently

So what did he go for?

We had hundreds of your suggestions for the killer soundbite David Cameron should use in his big party conference speech.

In the course of an hour, the Tory leader said he was "up to the test" of leading the country.

There was a lot of talk of being in things together, telling the party faithful and the British people if they "pull together, come together, work together - we will get through this together".

And he used the word change 15 times during the hour-long address.

He also pledged to "put Britain back on her feet", "turn the tide" and "make things happen" but he neatly turned this last soundbite on its head - in keeping with his theme of dismantling big government - by saying that if Britain can be rebuilt it will be down to people power and we will look back and say "you made it happen".

He also used the familiar trick of pinching popular song titles - saying there might not be many "reasons to be cheerful" but there are "reasons to believe" (from Ian Dury to Rod Stewart in one leap).

Although the phrase that will stick in the memory may well be the mountaineering metaphor that was handed to journalists on Wednesday night - "Yes it will be a steep climb. But the view from the summit will be worth it. Let me tell you what I can see."


Some had been speculating beforehand that he might use the phrase "This is it" to kick off what is effectively now an election campaign.

The Tory leader's use of the phrase in a private speech to party grandees last month sparked a flurry of speculation that he was road-testing an election slogan, his own version of Barack Obama's "Yes we can".

But the ghost of Labour's 1992 Sheffield rally, when Neil Kinnock celebrated a victory his party had not yet won, stalks every move the Tory Party makes at the moment, and he opt for a less triumphalist message.

The Tories still talk earnestly of "sealing the deal" with the electorate. They do not want to act as if the election is in the bag.

But all political parties need a decent conference soundbite.

Something that sums up in a few syllables the very essence of their message. The single thought they want to plant in the head of the party faithful and, more importantly, the floating voter casually flicking through the TV channels.

Young pretender

It does not have to be the big pay-off line to a speech. It could be something buried in the text - or repeated at regular intervals throughout it.

Shadow chancellor George Osborne had obviously decided "we are all in this together" was the soundbite he wanted people to take away from his big speech on Tuesday.

We know this because he said it seven times during the course of his address as he sought to sugar the pill of his stark message on spending cuts.

It got patchy take-up on the front pages, with some newspapers coming up with their own neatly-turned take on his message.

Sometimes the headline writers will ignore the carefully laid-out soundbites altogether and zero in on a single phrase - such as Gordon Brown's "no time for a novice" line from last year - that sums up the leader's message but also says something about his wider predicament.

Mr Brown's line was interpreted as a swipe at young pretender David Miliband as much as David Cameron.

At other times - as with Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg's "I want to be prime minister" speech this year - they will be nudged towards a phrase by party aides, who claimed it was the most ambitious statement ever made by a leader of their party.


Mr Clegg did say it four times during the speech, just in case we had missed it.

Like all opposition politicians, he also mentioned "change" a lot.

Nick Clegg giving his keynote conference speech
Nick Clegg wants to be prime minister

For the past year or so, the Conservatives have been trading under the slogan Plan for Change. This week they have moved to Ready for Change and Now for Change. The signs are everywhere in the Manchester conference centre.

Presumably the next stage of the campaign will be Time for Change.

Although, given the party's new belt-tightening message, "spare any change?" might be more appropriate.

But whatever Mr Cameron decides to go with on Thursday one thing is certain - it will be short.

Going viral

Even before Obama arrived on the scene with "Yes We Can", political slogans had been growing increasingly terse.

Labour fought the 2005 election with "Forward, Not Back", which makes their 1997 slogan "New Labour: Because Britain deserves better" sound like an essay.

Nowadays that would probably be truncated into something a little punchier and more personal. "You're worth it" perhaps.

The advent of Twitter, with its 140-character limit, can only increase this trend. If you want to go viral it helps to be brief.

Tony Blair's 1996 conference slogan "Labour's coming home" - a shameless attempt to capitalise on football's Euro 96 tournament - would have worked well on the net.

You also suspect former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith's contribution to the genre: "Do not underestimate the determination of a quiet man" would have been a hit on YouTube, if not for the reasons its authors intended.

But although the internet has certainly loosened the grip of the spin masters and professional media classes on the politicians' message, this does not have to work to their disadvantage.

Obama's "Yes we can" only became the defining phrase of his campaign after it was picked up and passed around by his thousands of online supporters.

David Cameron and his rivals in the UK should be so lucky.

Here is a selection of your soundbites:

Let us have a turn!
Kieron, Barnsley

The Sun is shining on us.
Longtime, London

"We're still bonkers, but we know you're past caring by now."
Martin, Bedfordshire

"Let's change Britain - we are all worth it" or "Britain needs new blood"

or "Together we can sort this mess"
karen scales, worcester

"Greed is good!"
Dan Hakstege, Cradley Heath

Save Britain or die trying!
Rosa Smith , Nottingham, England

The Tories lost to a landslide in 1997, and now Labour will suffer the same fate in 2010 (probably). I suggest:

"Our turn, again"

This can then be recycled by Labour in circa 2025.
Tim Wass, Cambridge

How about: Conserve or die.

It's what we have to do - and obviously hints that a Conservative government is the only one that can make it happen.
John Frewen-Lord, Nettleton, Lincs, UK

Don't vote for Tory, it's the same old story!

Don't be fooled we're still posh, we still spout a load of tosh!

Vote for me or face the consequences!

If the tories were in government, it would probably be the worst government in the world! - Inspired by the Carlsberg adverts
James, Manchester

We've had a change of Tone, now lets have a change of colour - from Brown to Blue!

We can fix it!

No more prudence lets have responsibility!

Move over Darling
Peter Grant, LEEK Staffs

Turn that Brown upside down!
Craig Mitchell, Aberdeen

How about:

"We can't do any worse than Labour"

"Give public school a chance"

"The country needs cuts in public services, so bring in the experts"

"Retirement is for wimps"

or simply

"I'm not Gordon"?
Tim, Hull, UK

Hasta la vista, Labour.
Mat, Somerset

if they, really want to seem hip, and internet focused, i would suggest

STFU Labour

Payfreeze or GTFO

the Tories- Total Pwnage

hmm, i dont wanna give them ideas, I might add

Lib Dems FTW
Luke, Plymouth

More Champagne anyone?
Ken Armstrong, Edinburgh

Why not take a leaf out of the West Wing's book? "What's Next?"
Kate Jones, Lancaster, Uk

"No I won't".

On being asked if he will hold a referendum on constitution/Lisbon treaty.
Rayatcov, Coventry, England

"Have you forgotten the 80s, yet?"
Rosie, Brighton

"Labour isn't working, again"
JZ, London

Vote for us or you'll be in the duckhouse
Harlowsceptic, Harlow

He needs to be upbeat without destroying the message of honestly levelling with the public - so how about :- "We will make the hard decisions for a better future for all"
Colin Allinson, Solihull

Things will always change, that we know.


Together, let us make a change for good.
Sian, Bristol


John Pearson, Preston Lancashire

Politics is often like a bad pantomime so how about; "HE'S BEHIND YOU!"
Bob, High Wycombe

Many, many thanks Gordon
Mike Dooley, Birmingham

"This is it" can be rearranged to easily to "Is this it?"
Paul Curtis, Aberdeen

Vote for 'Sound policies, not soundbites'.
JAK, Leicester

The three words that I'd like to hear at the end of the Tory Party conference would be "We're standing down"
lee, London

Camerons closing comment will be that immortal Phil Lynott line "The boys are back in town"
richard hill, Daventry

How about adapting that phrase from the arch capitalist Alan Sugar (no favourite of mine but, apparently, a hit with the viewers)?

"Brown - you're fired!"
Andy Heath, Cranbrook, Kent

Think for tomorrow, not yesterday.

Terence Walmsley, Deal Kent

It's your vote use it.

We are a thousand voices with but one purpose.

We have to change.

Your vote is the life blood of this country.

Its your country do what is right.

Its you the people that create change.

Remember the past to create the future.
Roy Sutton, Solihull UK B377JS

It must above all be CREDIBLE.

How about - MAKE IT HAPPEN
John Redfern, Sheffield, England

"Resistance is futile."?
Eddie, Newcastle

I think 'This Is It' belongs to Michael Jackson this year - sorry!
Tom, UK

Tally-ho !
Paul, London

Never in the face of human adversity have so many given so much to so few.

Or Bankers..."Our moneys coming Home"
Kevin Rolfe, Crawley

we all simply need change, without we will have nothing.
vj, nottingham

How about 'I'm a hologram of everything you want me to be' (for David Cameron).

But actually, he's Alec Douglas-Home with brylcream
rhory fraser, London

We can pull through this together
alan Price, Milton Keynes

I think a 'catchphrase' has to be short and catchy to grab people's attention, but it also has to be positive to get people on board. How about the Conservatives getting Churchill on board as campaign sponsors and making the soundbite something like: "Conservatives for a better Britain? Oh yes!"?
Adam Wilson, Ashgill, Scotland

Never trust a Tory!
Mr Big, Manchester

Fatter cats vote Tory
Ben Terrion, Blaby England

In view of the stance of the unions towards co-operation as they circle the wagons, it may well be."Let battle commence"
Dmorr, Grimsby UK

"The drinks are on me!"
Judith Davies, Kent

"The time is right"
Jon Dane, Cambridge, UK

"We're better then the other guys!"
Micah Plourd, Prague, Czech Republic

The problem with soundbite politics is it might bite you back in the future. So if David goes with say, 'honesty, integrity and trust', it will haunt him when the first scandal hits, which it will, no matter how careful he is.

I suggest; 'Don't look back, look forward.' Lots of hidden messages but unlikely to be held against him or the party.
Chris Wills, Fareham UK

I know "Doon with Broon" would go down well with the English, and "Brown and Out" would also have a nice ring, but what about:

"Britain can be Great Again"
West, Cuves, France

Nigel Davies, Stockport

In the interests of accurate reporting, you should point out that Obama's "Yes we can" was actually originally coined by Bob the Builder.

Perhaps, in the same vein, "Can we fix it?" would be a good slogan - for any party - right now. It's certainly the question we're all asking of them!
Phil Evans, Leicester, UK

"Make it so..."
Gary, Wolverhampton

The secret is to keep it simple, honest and sensible and to appeal to the Brtish sense of fair play, fighting spirit and resolve e.g.

Britain needs Conservatives

Working for a brighter future

Working together for all

Britain can be great again

Together we stand

No time to waver. Vote Conservative

Vote Conservative for a safer future

One party. One nation. One purpose

Charles Stuart-Hunt, London, UK

During 2009 the word "change" should be avoided like the plague, simply because it makes it look like all you can do is plagiarise Barack Obama. The fact that the Conservatives have already made the cardinal error of using it for their conference slogan suggests that whatever they come up today will sound tired and derivative. Just like all other recent UK efforts - it's a skill our politicians and speechwriters simply don't possess!
Ian Kemmish, Biggleswade

After all the negative accusations by Labour perhaps the best sound bit would be -

"No we won't"
Phil, Redbourn

"Tough choices for us. Tough luck for you."
Charles Barrand, Chichester, UK

We're the best of a bad bunch!


Death by hanging or firing squad!

Oh, ye of little faith.
Sean, Portsmouth

"The Time is now"
Geoff Herbert, Claygate England

Only with us!
Brian Keith, Ellesmere

"With Your Help"
Pepper Quill, Portsmouth

For either main party: "No change there then!"
Peter Jones, Tavistock, UK

How about the truth?

"You have been on a spending binge with money you did not have, just like the government. Don't expect us to get you out of this mess because we haven't a clue what to do."
John Jones, Carmarthen

I could see the Tories going for something that, a) emphasises the message that they are ready to govern; b) engages the public's attention by asking a direct question; and c) reinforces the theme of togetherness that Osborne trailed. Something like, "We're ready...are you?"
Mark Kieran, London, UK

"You've had it"
John White, Stony Stratford

We can fix it !

(underlining CAN)

Thats what seems to be lacking in this campaign, just a lot of rhetoric
Peter Button, Irchester uk

The secret of a well-crafted sound-bite in three words? For a politician, it's something that says "vote for me" whilst giving the impression that they care anything other than getting your vote.
Grant, Croydon

Driving change for good.
Paul Knighton, Willingham, Cambs., UK

I thought the closing words of Boris Johnson's speech were pretty good. 'The Conservatives will give you your money's worth, and they'll give you change as well'
Tim Huskisson, Southend-on-Sea

David Cameron could aim a well-deserved barb at Labour's dismal record by saying 'things have only got worse'.
Douglas Lee, London, UK

(conclude speech as follows)

The country can't afford another Labour Government.

(followed by lead into the soundbite)

This mess needs fixing

(then after a pause comes the soundbite)

We will do it
John, Dorset

I am young and i am a Tory!
Taye, London, UK

make my Day!
John, UK

There isn't really a need for glorious soundbites in British politics. Generally those that are created seem too forced, whilst carrying little meaning. 'Yes we can' is the perfect perfect but only in America, and such political phenomena hasn't made it's way across the pond to excite our electorate.
Joseph Higgins, Southampton

"Your last chance to change your future"
bil bailey, bath uk

The guts to cut.
Neil Roques, Bishop's Stortford

To the tune of the Dr Pepper advert: "David Cameron, what's the worst that could happen?"
Jonny, Tadcaster

Mike Bowker, Stevenage

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