IMPACT Article of the Month
This is a list – but by no means an exhaustive one – of words and phrases which politicians should be immediately banned from using. They are vacuously employed by policy-makers who want to buy themselves a few extra nanoseconds of thought so that they can scrabble together a pre-approved line from the party’s official script. It is a real shame – as any appreciators of the English language will understand – that so many words are hijacked and gutted of any sincere meaning and impact in this way.
1 – Important
Possibly above all others, this word should be banished from interviews and public Q&As forever. The asker of a question does not need to be reassured by the politician that their question is important. Of course they know it’s important. That’s why they bothered to show up, to raise their hand, and to ask it.
2 – Balance
As if we don’t already know that the world is not so neatly black and white as we perhaps wish it was, politicians feel an uncontrollable need to talk to us about the importance (see what I mean?) of balancing acts. Of course, yes, our lawmakers will need to try and find a delicate equipoise between two contrasting solutions, that’s just reality. But, too often, this word is brandished whenever the speaker wishes to cop-out of answering a question. Instead of saying outright that they don’t know the answer (or, more accurately, they don’t know the answer they think you want), it is apparently better to just imply it with this throwaway term.
3 – Passionate
Maybe it’s just me, but the more a politician strains to emphasise how passionate they are about something, the less I believe them. Show us your passion through your actions and your record, don’t tell us about it through your overuse of the ‘p’ word. Yes, Gordon Matheson, I’m looking at you.
4 – Hard-working families
No comment necessary, I think, other than to ask: do single people not work anymore?
5 – Tough decisions
Whenever I hear a machine politician upload this pre-installed phrase into their conversations with us humans, I imagine this means the leaders of our country would go into meltdown mode when confronted with decisions were it not for the help of their team of Spads. I also imagine that when Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had that era-defining meeting in the Granita restaurant in which they determined the political future of the United Kingdom for almost two decades, the most agonising part was actually choosing whether to have the soup or a salad.
6 – The right thing to do
What does that even mean? Are we to assume that, if this phrase is ever absent from a discussion, the subject being discussed or the choice being made is therefore the wrong thing to do? Or is it that this phrase is in fact used as a red herring when the speaker knows fully well that something is the wrong thing to do, but wants to crack on with it anyway? If you’re struggling to work out which one may be the case, just bear in mind that Tony Blair still thrashes out the line that invading Iraq was “the right thing to do”.
7 – I went to a comprehensive school
That’s nice. I went to the shops this morning. So?
This is supposedly something us common folk are meant to appreciate. However, if your comprehensive education really is a defining part of you, and if you really are proud of the impact that such a diverse and realistic learning experience had on your development, then let your values and your attitudes show it; don’t rely on having to remind everyone all the time. Any politician who feels the need to bring it up ad nauseam isn’t saying so because it’s a valuable contribution to make. They are saying so because they fear that their alien attitudes and behaviours probably make people think they’re just another public school boy. Isn’t that right, Sajid Javid?
8 – Complex issue
Political shorthand for “I don’t actually know anything about the subject you’ve just brought up, so I’m just going to dress it up with some mildly technical phraseology and try my best to sound convincing and knowledgeable, while throwing in a few long words.”
9 – Change
Even as a fan of Barack Obama, I think this word has lost its intended meaning of inspiration and now just causes irritation. Unless you’re serious about chasing change over all the hurdles you will encounter, and unless you’re actually proposing real change instead of minor cosmetic tweaks, then just do us all a favour and leave this word alone.
10 – The last [insert party here] government
This one should definitely not be allowed. Blaming the previous government is sure evidence that the incumbent government still hasn’t got a handle on what it’s doing yet. Five years in, David Cameron needs to stop pretending that the problems we experience as a country today are Gordon Brown’s fault, and finally take ownership of his record as a two-term Prime Minister.
The Scottish equivalent to blaming the last government is to blame Westminster for anything and everything.
11 – Robust
Yawn. If anybody is ever stuck for what to get somebody in the Parliamentary Secret Santa, I’d recommend a thesaurus.
As I said at the beginning, this is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a start on the way to clarifying our public discourse and giving some real meaning to the otherwise vague language our politicians tend to use.
Consider the following: “Absolutely, I think it’s the right thing to do; I am passionate about this because I went to a comprehensive school, and the last government didn’t change the way we do things for hard-working families, so it is important that we strike a robust balance when making tough decisions about this complex issue.”
If you ever hear a politician say that on the news or on Question Time, just burn your TV, because it’s no good for you now.
The saddest part? That really does sound like something that a modern British politician would say. And that makes me despair. Politicians should just start talking like the normal people they claim to be.
After all, it’s the right thing to do.