There’s an existential brand crisis in politics right now, a crisis that is contributing to fragmentation and confusion in the two main UK parties and may yet lead to their collapse. This is about something much deeper than policy – it’s a collapse in brand theory as applied to political parties and consumer (or, electoral) behaviour. Not only is it a disease that has taken firm hold of the established parties but is it infecting from birth the newcomers that are emerging from the pre-Brexit chaos.
In essence, the problem is simple: the parties don’t stand for anything distinctive anymore – at least not in the eyes of the electorate.
Now, of course, in this modern age, the pursuit of perceived distinction for any kind of organisation, political or otherwise, is a multi-faceted endeavour. It comes from the full experience audiences gain of the organisation, some of which the brand owner controls, some of which it does not. But I can’t help but feel that the challenges political parties face today is well summarised by the contemporary inadequacies of that small but most vital element of brand identity: their names.
It’s clear today that the Conservatives, also known as Tories, are a deeply divided party. The etymology of these monikers offers an interesting historical parallel to that split. To be “conservative” is to be averse to change and hold traditional values. Yet the origins of the term “Tory” date from the 17th Century, formally defined as, “one of the dispossessed Irish, who became outlaws, subsisting by plundering and killing the English settlers and soldiers.” Tories were rebels not conservatives. Perhaps not surprising today, then, that Boris Johnson and Theresa May are so diametrically opposed. (I’ve always rather hated the term Tory, although this meaning serves to increase its appeal to me).
Shine a similar light on Labour and it sounds like the ‘hard, manual work party’ or, at best, ‘the party for manual workers’. Neither version seems particularly appealing in a modern world driven by technology, service industries, work/life balance and personal empowerment. It feels like an anachronism from an age where to fight for labourers’ rights was society’s central issue. Rather like with Jeremy Corbyn, ergo his party, while it’s wrong to argue that that cause is completely invalid today, it’s just not representative of what the majority of contemporary Britain wants or needs.