As the Deputy Editor of ConservativeHome, there are two expressions I come across more regularly than the average person. One is “levelling up”, and the other is “build back better”. If anyone reads or hears these expressions – and not just editors of conservative websites – frequently enough, they will begin to wince in a Pavlovian manner upon each utterance of said phrase.
But in recent times it strikes me that the expression “build back better” is not only overused (apologies to our contributors!); it could, in fact, be electorally troublesome for the Conservatives, for it has become synonymous with policies and strategies that Conservative voters are quietly dissatisfied with (another thing I do as Deputy Editor: read the comments section of this site).
What is “building back better” anyway? Log onto Twitter and you’ll see a number of conspiracy theories floating about it, due to the amount of leaders across the world and political persuasions now using the phrase (“a co-ordinated plot!”).
Mostly they are referring to the global economic recovery from the pandemic. However, go to Wikipedia and there are eight different versions of the expression, ranging from a United Nations Program to the slogan of the Joe Biden 2020 presidential campaign, to “Build Back Better World”, an initiative undertaken by G7 countries.
Conservatives’ use of the term “Build Back Better” technically refers to the party’s plan for growth, an incredibly ambitious document, in which the Prime Minister has laid out how he wants to boost the country and its economy. It covers everything from infrastructure to skills to opportunities for growth from EU exit, and Conservatives should be commended for their ambition and effort in developing it.
That being said, my problem with “build back better” is that it increasingly seems to have moved away from a strategy to a meaningless phase, wheeled out whenever someone wants to justify a policy or idea they’ve had. So long as you’re “building back better, X must be sensible”, goes the logic.
Of course it’s not the first time the Government has used a slogan repeatedly. But at least they’ve been a bit more obvious in the past. I don’t think I need to explain what “Get Brexit done” means to any readers, and even “levelling up” is fairly clear, referring to the imbalances in people’s socioeconomic status across the country, which Conservatives will fix through funding.
When Conservatives say “build back better”, though, I am often left with more questions than I have answers. For one, as a millennial, the main thing I want to be built is houses, which doesn’t appear to be a big feature of the “building back better” plan.
Perhaps this is because a huge amount of “build back better” rhetoric is tied into the Government’s Net Zero ambitions. Whenever one hears about a new green idea, you can put money on the fact that you will be told it’s “building back better”.
Indeed, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has a whole webpage devoted to “Building back better”, in which it declares that raising “the UK’s climate ambitions for 2035 will put Net Zero within reach and change the UK for the better”. But surely anyone reading the newspaper coverage on how much it will cost to replace their gas boiler will be wondering if that is really “building back better”? Along with the £372 billion pandemic bill, and the anticipated £1.4 trillion Net Zero costs, it sounds more like we will “build back broke”.
The CCC underlines my biggest reservation about the expression “build back better”, which is how opaque it is – like this unaccountable committee. You are simply meant to accept the wisdom of “build back better”, rather than getting a vote on individual policies.
In fact, I would hazard a guess that it’s not just Conservative editors who now wince at the phrase, but Conservative voters, too, for whom “build back better” has come to symbolise all the things they don’t like: huge levels of government spending, policies they didn’t vote for (Net Zero, pandemic policies) and even the scenes of the G7 Summit in which politicians talked about – yes – how nations can “build back better”. Can we Get Some New Slogans Done? We will see.