Hence the failure by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband to form an emotional connection with the British electorate. In politics, as in private life, you cannot generally get very close to people if you refuse to talk to them. A series of soundbites which supposedly tell the voters what they want to hear, and which are conveyed via intermediaries, will not do. There is no substitute for the attempt at prolonged and direct communication. Anything less soon comes to seem like an insult and estrangement follows. If politicians do not bother with people, why should people bother with politicians?
In his essay "Politics and the English Language", published in Horizon in 1946, George Orwell identified many of the faults that had already appeared in political writing: "As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house."
Orwell noted that following a party line produces especially dismal language: "Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White Papers and the speeches of Under-Secretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one never finds in them a fresh, vivid, home-made turn of speech."
For Orwell, the flight into stale abstraction was explained mainly by the attempt to defend the indefensible: "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 political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness."
In our own day, I would attribute a higher proportion of the vagueness to mental vacuity: to the inability of the speaker to think of anything worth saying. Let us leave on one side the narrow bounds that democracy sets to what can be said by anyone who wishes to avoid being written off as mad. My concern here is with the alarmingly undemocratic manner in which our politicians now practise their trade. They never have to address public mass meetings and in most cases would have no idea how to do so. The party conferences are shrunken affairs, stuffed with journalists and lobbyists, and contain very few rank-and-file members, for whom attendance has become too expensive and unrewarding. The hierarchies much prefer small, lifeless audiences to large ones which might get out of hand: in 2005 Walter Wolfgang, an 82-year-old peace activist, was thrown out of the Labour Party conference for shouting "That's a lie, and you know it," during an account by Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, of why we had invaded Iraq. The audience which career politicians most often have in mind is either their own party leadership, which they are anxious not to offend; or else the parliamentary lobby: a splendid body of trained newshounds, but one which has a doctrine of the "gaffe", understood as any slightly unusual statement; or else the broadcasters, who don't want more than a few words.
- ONLINE ONLY: Thoughts from a Hospital Bed
- ONLINE ONLY: Academic Boycotts Teach Us Nothing
- ONLINE ONLY: Send in the Clowns
- ONLINE ONLY: Thatcher, Reagan and the Dictators
- The Resolute Courage of Margaret Thatcher
- America's New Isolationists Are Endangering the West
- An Alternative To Our Reckless Energy Gamble
- The Family is the Key to the Future of Faith
- Persecuted Muslims Who Love Life in England
- They Were the Future of the Tory Party, Once
- The Parable of the Stupid Samaritan
- Pope Frank: In the Footsteps of St Francis
- The Middle Kingdom's Problem with Religion
- We Abandon Christians in the East At Our Peril
- Feminism Or Islamism: Which Side Are You On?
- At Last: Gove Goes For the Culture of Excuses
- Is There a Way Out of the Tories' Modernising Mess?
- Online Only: The Kenyatta Dilemma
- Cameron is the Euro's Best Hope for Survival
- Census That Revealed a Troubling Future