The art of the political put down

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Regardless of whether you’re a follower of politics or not, everybody loves that sweet moment when a good ‘one liner’ lands. For the likes of Indigo’s Public Affairs team and other political anoraks, these ‘put downs’ have the ability to turn a normal PMQs or FMQs into one to savour. Some politicians clearly relish firing a zinger but for others it can prove quite a daunting task. Here’s our guide to perfecting the art of the political put down.

Zing them (and make sure it lands)

We all have that mate that can’t deliver a joke properly, usually down to either bad timing or ill-advised content (see this Limmy sketch for reference) or sometimes their jokes are just terrible. Nobody expects jokes of a particularly high standard in the House of Commons but David Cameron’s ‘Acropolis Now’ managed to commit all three sins.

Pick your moment

A good zinger is all about reading the room.  Misjudging the mood can also provide the opposition with an opportunity to fire back, as Jeremy Corbyn discovered when talking about his recent trip to Brussels.

Don’t get too personal

There’s a fine line between a political and a personal insult in the debating chamber. If members aren’t sure where that line sits then they only have to check with the Speaker, as the ‘Beast of Bolsover’ Dennis Skinner discovered first-hand when he branded David Cameron ‘Dodgy Dave’ which consequently led to him being removed from the Commons.

Get the crowd on your side

It’s likely your fellow party members will cheer on your jibes but the aim should always be to get non-party members laughing as well. Vince Cable achieved this when to referenced the prime ministerial transition from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown as ‘Stalin to Mr Bean’. The ultimate put down should have all four corners of the Commons rocking, as this one did.

If it’s funny, don’t be afraid to take it online

With Twitter hosting a whole host of political brains and figures, it has opened up a whole new realm for political put downs. Someone using this medium brilliantly right now is Hillary Clinton. In response to Donald Trump’s tweet “Obama just endorsed Crooked Hillary. He wants four more years of Obama but nobody else does!” she simply responded:

hillary tweet

Ruth Davidson is also a fan of the online put down –

ruth davidson tweet

The beauty of using Twitter for this is down to its reactionary nature. You can zing someone anytime or anywhere which can often lead to long winded arguments between politicians that lead the rest of us reaching for the popcorn.


Think before you fire

However sometimes social media just isn’t the place to showcase this as one of our previous blogs demonstrates.

Regardless of political allegiance, everyone can appreciate when a particularly good ‘one liner’ lands. There truly is an art to it in politics, the context has to be relevant, funny and it also needs to connect with the electorate.

Euan Stirling is a Social Media Executive at Indigo