Maybe I should have been a politician. I can just hear myself aged five or six telling my Mum that I was not reading after lights out – only looking at the pictures.
We are told that we live in a democracy, the fairest form of government. Political leaders are at pains to emphasise their defence of this. Hmm! Democracy is a fragile thread, too easily broken by those who would do so; and we have of late been learning just how fragile it can be.
The dissemination of false or misleading information has for a hundred years been the stock-in-trade of autocrats. First they use it to destroy faith in the institutions on which democracy depends; then they take power via promises they have no intention of keeping. Once they have that power, democracy is dead.
Former Prime Minister Johnson began the dismantling of our democracy. He removed from his party any voices of dissent to create an obedient parliament. He side-lined journalists who were unsympathetic, turning even the BBC partisan. He lied his way to Brexit and then No.10, where he behaved in ways no predecessor had ever done before, until defenestrated after eventually offending the tolerance of his customarily meek acolytes.
But even if the blatant liar has left the stage, obfuscation seems to have entered the DNA of his party, engineered by the ‘hidden persuaders’ of libertarian fundamentalists, Tufton Street. Our democracy is not safe.
The latest puppets of Big Money have collectively adopted linguistic devices designed to con the public and prime the pliant media. First, there is the unevidenced number, whereby an impressive figure is quoted, but without any data to show if it will actually address the problem. Some examples will give the idea.
In the autumn statement, the Chancellor announced the equivalent of £3.5bn a year extra care funding, announcing that the increase would “put the adult social care system in England on a stronger financial footing.” Sounds good? Sector experts state that at least £7bn a year is needed for social care.
In January, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told parliament: “There are now more NHS dentists across the UK with more funding, making sure people can get the treatment they need.” Vote for that? In reality, as the British Dental Association highlights, the number of NHS dentists is lower than it was in 2019, there is no new funding and millions of adults and children remain without either dental checking or treatment.
The government trumpeted raising basic Universal Credit by the cost of living increase to £85 per week. Everyone happy? Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Trussell Trust estimate essential living costs at least £120 per week.
Then there are the (infuriating to some, convincing to others) rhetorical clichés, which do the same job without the quantification: take ‘world-leading’, for example. Suella Braverman applied this epithet in March to the malign deportation agreement with Rwanda. What is world-beating (or border-controlling) about paying a poor country an exorbitant sum to accommodate deportees, in exchange for agreeing to accommodate at least as many of theirs?
Another frequent presence in minister-speak is ‘the vast majority of the British people’ wanting some result on which they have not been consulted – for instance, the Home Secretary again – from representatives of a government with no popular mandate.
There are many examples daily of these and similar smoke-screens, recognisable as the products of coaching by being trotted out by plural ministers, designed so that the credulous think well of a government which is failing on every front.
It may seem petty to nit-pick about mere verbiage, but such usage is deliberate, dangerous and corrosive of our very system of governance. Democracy must allow its electorate the right and ability to choose between political parties and candidates on the basis of true positions, policies and performance, but is suborned by the repetition of misleading slogans or non-facts, especially when unchallenged.
Both opposition MPs and journalists owe it to the public to call out the use of these verbal devices by demanding the evidence for them, on the spot, before they have become lodged in the collective mind of the electorate as if truths. What else are they for? If they do not do this, they are merely lap-dog partisan loud-hailers, as the BBC has become. Robin Day must be turning in his grave.
My mother did not believe my pathetic fib, nor should we let pass those of our government. Democracy is not safe in its hands