Campaign slogans: early-riser blues

Valorising those who forego a lie-in isn’t always smart politics

 

The idea that getting out of bed early is a badge of moral virtue is hardly new. The Puritans were early risers and Napoleon bragged that he could get by on four hours a night. But politicians have never been more eager to court the sleepless vote.

When he ran for the French presidency in 2007, in a campaign built around shaking the country out of its supposed torpor, Nicolas Sarkozy declared himself the candidate of “the France that rises early”. Emmanuel Macron, with a knowing wink to the voters who flocked to Sarkozy a decade earlier, repeated the formula in his successful campaign for the Élysée Palace this year. Nick Clegg in 2011 kept satirists in business by positioning the Liberal Democrats as the party of “Alarm Clock Britain”. Last week, Leo Varadkar followed suit, announcing that Fine Gael under his leadership would look out for “people who get up early in the morning”.

For politicians, the idea’s appeal is clear. It offers them a catchy way of speaking to those who work hard but still struggle to pay their bills. It even allows for subtle variations, depending on whether it’s used on the right or left. When the UK’s then chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, contrasted the person who “leaves for work at seven in the morning” with the neighbour who “keeps the blind pulled down” and “is living a lifetime on benefits”, he was shoring up the base by offering the early riser as a counterpoint to the idle scrounger. When Labour’s Pat Rabbitte spoke of “people who get up at six in the morning” in 2007, however, it was a pitch beyond the core vote towards the coveted commuter belt.

But valorising those who forgo a lie-in isn’t always smart politics. An incumbent minister using the slogan reminds voters of all the early-rising carers struggling to get by on a meagre allowance, or the parent who drives for two hours each morning because a housing crisis has made living in the city an impossible dream. And that’s to say nothing of the dubious correlation between early rising and hard work in the first place. As a campaign trope, the early riser has earned a good rest.

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