Politician Speak Translated: Part 2

It’s difficult even for politicians to keep up with some of the jargon, spin and rhetoric these days so, in order to help, there follows a brief description of some of the more common phrases.

Fiscal Prudence: this is a nicer way of saying that you are going to cut social security spending. Prudent is a nicer word than mean. Ebenezer Scrooge suggested that he was prudent — not mean.

Special Relationship: The much-lauded “special relationship” between the US and the UK has many facets to it. At its origin, the relationship was that in exchange for bailing Britain out in the First World War, the British would agree to American control over much of the war effort. The arrangement continued during the Second World War, but this time the Americans insisted upon having some permanent bases on UK soil. It is a little known fact that from these bases the Americans can, if they so wish, launch nuclear strikes on other countries from British soil without first consulting the British Prime Minister. This could make Britain the first target for a retaliatory strike even though the British government or people may not have been consulted. Satellites would show that the missile was launched from within the UK. Finally, at this well-developed stage the “special relationship” has reached a new phase: everyone has to do what America tells it to, and the British get the special privilege of pretending they were in on the decision beforehand and can therefore contrive to save face.

Standing Shoulder To Shoulder With: this phrase is traditionally used in joint military ventures. To be “standing shoulder to shoulder” with someone means you are backing them up at a time of crisis. How you can back someone up whilst standing beside him or her remains a mystery.

Open Government: technically this means transparency in government. It is no coincidence that nearly all opposition parties promise some sort of freedom of information bill while in opposition then renege on it or produce an extremely watered down version while in government (see the 1999 UK Freedom Of Information Act and compare it to New Labours original proposal
while in opposition).

Doublethink: George Orwell described doublethink as “the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts in ones head and simultaneously believe in both of them”. Therefore you must appear to be sympathetic about lives ruined by poverty and be tough on crime at the same time. You must talk about the evils of despotic governments and yet repatriate people who have escaped
from such regimes and accuse them of being “bogus asylum seekers”. You must be able to attack people in the name of peace, (in fact, as Orwell said, the policy is “war is peace”). Furthermore, you must believe yourself to be following the will of the public and setting an agenda for it simultaneously.

Frank Exchange Of Views: This term is used where participants in a fight wish to hide the fact that they hate each other and wish to make it appear that at least some communication occurred between them. A more violent variation is “Frank, bordering on direct” which means that someone had to mop up the blood afterwards.

Social Exclusion: This is the polite way of saying poverty. It’s a suitably vague political phrase in that is much less of a definite statement to say, “this government has successfully targeted the problem of social exclusion” than it is to say, “this government has successfully targeted poverty”. There is room in the first phrase for more obfuscation. The public can identify poverty but social exclusion is a more difficult concept to define therefore its harder for them to disagree with you in a cogent manner.

Scotland's Michael Greenwell has worked, at various times, as a university tutor, a barman, a DJ ("not a very good one,"), an office lackey, supermarket worker, president of a small charity, a researcher, a librarian, a volunteer worker in Nepal during the civil war there, and "some other things that were too tedious to mention." Nowadays, he explains, "I am always in the education sector in one way or another." Read other articles by Michael, or visit Michael's website.