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A future fair for all

Slogans fun

The Labour Party has announced its election-campaign slogan: A Future Fair For All. We can assume this does not amount to a promise to every citizen of a Ferris Wheel and Waltzer to be delivered to their garden in the years following a Labour victory. Still, not everyone is happy with the slogan. Alex Massie, for example, complains of:

the now traditional absence of punctuation that further obscures the meaning

I assume he means that he would prefer to see the slogan punctuated with a forceful comma, like so: A Future, Fair For All. Though, as a matter of general principle, I very much agree that it is desirable to punctuate everything more heavily than is common, I’m not sure Massie’s suggestion (if it is indeed as I have guessed it to be) would enhance a meaning previously obscured; it would, though, certainly have an unfortunate side-effect. To promise A Future, Fair For All would be to imply that at least, with the Labour Party, there will actually be a future, whereas if you vote Tory, time itself will stop.

Massie also considers that the slogan has chosen arbitrarily to reverse the normal order of words:

Seriously, what’s wrong with A Fair Future For All?

Well, there’s nothing wrong with it; it’s just that it doesn’t mean quite the same thing. Massie’s version promises that everyone will share in a fair future (howsoever defined). The actual slogan, however, emphasizes that the future will be fair (howsoever defined) for everyone — ie, not just fair for some, as would be, or so the slogan charges implicitly, the programme of a Conservative government.

Not a trivial aspect of slogan-engineering — or slogangineering — meanwhile, is the matter of scansion, and it is the work of a few seconds’ speaking-aloud to determine that A Future Fair For All is a quintessentially English, fluidly skipping run of iambs (“To be or not to be”); while Massie’s suggested A Fair Future For All arrests the eye and tongue with the toe-stubbing combination of the iamb-trochee halt and the fact that here, the labiodental fricative must be repeated in the very next syllable (fair future), without the breathing space accorded by -ture in the original (fu -ture fair). The authentic slogan is thus easier to say, more rhythmically agreeable, and thus (or so I suppose) more memorable. Perhaps the at-first-surprising inversion in future fair has, moreover, the faintest tang of a literary sensibility, but I for one am not about to complain.

It is in the nature of political slogans, of course, that they leave enormous pragmatic and philosophical questions unanswered (how exactly will this future be fair?; how will this species of fairness be accomplished?; who, exactly, is all?), and tend rather to unspeak political complexity by appealing to the warm feelings engendered by studiedly vague appeals to what no one is against (future, fairness, all). Still, as slogans go, A Future Fair For All does not strike me as especially pernicious, unintelligible, or stupid.

  1. 1  ejh  February 22, 2010, 9:35 am 

    We might also query the phrase “now traditional”.

  2. 2  Ricardo  February 22, 2010, 10:52 am 

    I think—am I alone here?—that, in “the now traditional absence of punctuation that further obscures the meaning”, AM missed punctuational opportunities. How about some commas? Or even a hyphen!

  3. 3  WIIIAI  February 22, 2010, 10:59 am 

    Not too bad, but it does raise the question, does Labour consider the present to be fair for all, and if not, given their longevity in power, why not?

  4. 4  Steven  February 22, 2010, 12:43 pm 

    Those are indeed excellent questions, WIIIAI.

    Ricardo — quite. Possibly the failure to write “now-traditional” has obscured the meaning? (Still, Massie is in general an oasis of reason in the foetid marshlands of Spectator blogs.)

  5. 5  Craig  February 22, 2010, 1:37 pm 

    Well, should Labour win the next election, and we end up with a giant, free-entry carnival at the 02 arena showcasing how life may look in the year 2020, don’t say you didn’t know that Labour would provide a future fair for all.

  6. 6  Wrestling Dick  February 22, 2010, 4:18 pm 

    Dost thou know of any fair maidens hereabouts? I need a wrestling partner.

  7. 7  aboulien  February 22, 2010, 4:47 pm 

    What it has a faint tang of is the unidiomatic postpositive adjective of formal verse in English, or poetic ‘inversion’.

    Did you see William Rees-Mogg on this, though? Bollocks on scones. Literary criticism is no more an amateur’s game than editing The Times.

  8. 8  future fair for all  February 23, 2010, 4:54 pm 

    Pragmatic arguments aside… is it not an admission of 13 years of fairness failure?

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