Watch out for the weasels
When Charles Kennedy died, it made me realise how long it was since I had heard a politician give a straight answer to a straight question, or say anything that you could pin a stable meaning to. The election subjected us to an even greater deluge of weasel words than usual, and six weeks after the election I’m still shouting at the television and radio.
Just take a look at the quote below. This is what David Cameron said in an interview on This Morning.
“It’s going to take time to get this right because obviously we need an expansion of the childcare sector, we need more nurseries, more of these places to open so we’re working with them to expand. We need them to expand so we’re going to start talking to them immediately about what’s the best way of making sure that they’re being properly paid for, the childcare that they provide, so that we can expand the number of places.”
This snippet was featured in Radio 4’s news bulletin, and, incredibly, featured on the ITV news website. Why did they bother? All he’s said, in answer to a question about where the funding for the additional nursery places they announced is coming from, is “we need more nurseries” five times, and that the Government is going to talk to the childcare sector about how to fund this. He probably doesn’t even have the excuse that he was caught on the hop as he would no doubt have been briefed to within an inch of his life by an official before the interview.
This explains a lot about why people are disenchanted with politics. Politicians have honed their ability to speak with forked tongue to a fine art, and the tricks below are just some of the weapons in their formidable arsenal of evasion techniques.
1. Spurious conditions
Politicians seems to have a curious notion that basic human requirements change with the passage of time. The oft-quoted justification of Conservatives for their opposition to a national minimum wage was that it was ‘not appropriate for the end of the 20th century’. So what was it exactly about the 1990s that people no longer had need of the wherewithal to house, clothe and feed themselves and their families adequately? More recently, we’ve heard the same era-based argument being put forward to justify the hobbling of the trade unions.
2. ‘Being clear’
As I recall, this trope was introduced by New Labour, despite the on-line consensus that it is an Obama-ism. You can bet your life that when you hear a politician say “let me be clear about this”, it will not be followed up by anything worth listening to. It’s designed merely to allow the speaker to appear to be being forthright and decisive, when in fact what they’re about to say is motherhood-and-apple-pie, or beyond their control, or so vague as to be meaningless (a bit like some of the pledges on the Edstone).
3. Spot the substance
Much as it pains me to be critical of the sisterhood, I must direct you to the utterances of Priti Patel. It seemed to me that she was often put up for interview during the election campaign as the government knew that she was a safe pair of lips from which no morsel of commitment on which they could be held accountable would ever fall.
I had the opportunity to witness at first hand how political messages are stripped of substance when I worked at the Home Office. One year in to the New Labour government there was a trawl round departments to create a list of what had been achieved over their first year. Looking back over the Home Office legislation that had been enacted over this period, I came up with the abolition of the primary purpose rule in immigration legislation and the restriction of animal testing to research purposes (i.e not for commercial cosmetics testing). Not earth-shattering, but nonetheless legislation that made a positive impact on many people’s lives and spared a lot of animal suffering. When I saw the list that finally went to No. 10, neither of these things was on it. OK, so I could understand that they might not want to publicise an achievement likely to enrage the anti-immigration wing of the electorate and might consider the animal legislation too trivial, but what did go on the list? Announcements of £xm for this and £ym for that, rather than any tangible actions. Are people really taken in by this?
Politicians’ stock is so low they have nothing to lose from telling it like it is. Won’t somebody give it a go?