“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefencible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.”
George Orwell, 1946
“We're in the future business.”
Gordon Brown, 2010
“We stand for society, that's the right idea for a better future.”
David Cameron, 2010
“The thing I really want to change is to give people greater fairness.”
Nick Clegg, 2010
“It's Greens who are standing up for fairness.”
Caroline Lucas, 2010
I recently read a great short essay by George Orwell, called 'Politics and the English Language,' from which the quote above is taken. Orwell made the point that politicians either make their language deliberately unintelligible so we have no idea what's they really think, or else use a constant stream of cliches* so we have no idea what they really think. At no time is this more true than in the run up to an election.
The quotes from the politicians that I've used above aren't chosen because they particularly illustrate this point more than anything else any of them have said. They're just what I found in about a minute of Googling.
Labour say, “A Future Fair For All.” Tories say “Now For Change.” Greens say “Fair is Worth Fighting For.” I'm not actually sure what the LibDems' main tagline is, probably “For God's Sake Give Us A Go, It's Been 85 Years!” Let's be clear: none of these are political slogans. “All Power to the Soviets” is a political slogan. “Keep Britain White” is a political slogan. Anything that someone, somewhere, might actually disagree with is a political slogan. In this election they all crap on about “fairness” (whatever that is). A few years ago it was promising a better life for “hard-working families.” As if anyone would read this and think, “I'm so fucking sick of these hard-working families, they've had it too good for too long.”
Taking this into account, forgive me for not looking forward to the televised “debates” with any excitement. I imagine they might go something like this:
Brown: What the Tories don't understand is that Britain is crying out for us to finish our unfinished business. This election is about the future. By the way, remember how awful the Tories were in the past.
Cameron: We need change, based on our British values. Something a Scotsman would know nothing about.
Clegg: Both the old parties have forgotten that people on the doorstep want a fair deal in the home, at work, in the school system, on the buses, in the fields, on the beaches, in any tug-of-war contests they feel like entering. Fairness is the key to a fairer society.
Cameron: No society can exist without fairness. Playing by the rules should be rewarded...
Brown: … by a government which looks forward and has bold...
Clegg: … radical...
Cameron: … and pragmatic policies and vis...
Brown: ...ion to lead in a challenging age where tou...
Clegg: ...gh decisions need to be made.
At the end of the debate, the Four Horsemen of the Public Sector Apocalypse (Cuts, Pay Freezes, Redundancy and Privatisation) will ride out from the mouths of the party leaders and lay waste to the land.
How's that for an election prediction?
I may write a more serious post on the political implications of excessive bullshit in due course, if I can bring myself to listen to any more of it without breaking down and weeping.
* I'm aware that “constant stream of cliches is itself a cliché, but give me a break, it's 1a.m.