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Wed 20 November 2019
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(n.) secrecy, concealment; (adj., adv.) clandestine, hidden from view 


Rely solely on the headlines and you’d be forgiven for thinking not much of any consequence has happened this week, save for two former Labour MPs endorsing Boris Johnson in the upcoming December election. It’s true, Ian Austen and John Woodcock’s words were hardly beneficial to Jeremy Corbyn (not least in the opening week of an election campaign), and unsurprisingly the press were quick to pounce on them. 

“VOTE CONSERVATIVE, SAY CORBYN REBELS” splashed the Telegraph. “CORBYN IN CRISIS!” echoed the Mail. “VOTE BORIS!” cried the Express, calling it an “INCREDIBLE PLEA FROM LABOUR PARTY BIGWIGS.” “BOOBY BLING TERROR!” was the, er, Daily Star’s take. And Mr Austen’s damning words in particular even formed the basis of the opening question on the BBC’s Question Time on Thursday, because OF COURSE THEY DID. 

But as much as the BBC might not like to hear it, arguably only one of those front-page splashes it worth much journalistic salt: yes, it is a crying shame that John McCririck’s widow Booby is so fearful of his possessions being stolen that she has begun auctioning them off. 

As for the others? In an ordinary week, having two MPs declare their (former) party leader so toxic that they are willing to support his opposition would indeed be shattering headline news. But aside from the fact that neither Austen nor Woodcock remains Labour members—and, moreover, neither is standing for re-election in December—it has to be said this has not been an ordinary week. And the wilful blindness of much of our press to everything that took place outside of the Labour debacle is, some might say, troubling. 

So what was—or rather, should have been—the main story of the week? Well, on Monday, Number 10 suppressed the publication of a 50-page report into the potential of Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum. The dossier, published by the Intelligence and Security Committee and reportedly already cleared for publication by Britain’s highest security agencies, was expected to have been signed off by the Prime Minister’s team in a little over a week. Instead, Number 10 are sitting on its contents, and insisting it not be made public until after the election—if not long into 2020. 

What do they have to hide? On the one hand, perhaps nothing. On the other, perhaps an awful lot. 

Allegations of Russian money being drip-fed into the Conservative Party have surfaced time and time again in the 2010s, with question marks still hanging over bizarre stories like Vladimir Putin’s judo partner attending a Conservative fundraiser in 2013, and the wife of a former Russian finance minister paying a six-figure sum at a fundraising auction in 2014 to play a game of tennis with Boris Johnson. 

As for Johnson himself, we already know that he was considered a security risk as Foreign Secretary—and at one point even left his Met Police escort team in London while he partied with a group of Russian oligarchs at a remote palazzo in Umbria. And don’t get us started on still-in-contempt-of-parliament chief advisor to Number 10 Dominic Cummings’ three years spent in Russia in the mid 1990s—which this week prompted a whistleblower to approach the Labour front bench with “serious concerns” about his time there. 

The security dossier, of course, might vindicate all involved. But the longer it is suppressed—and the longer the media behemoths prompt us to look elsewhere while it languishes in the Number 10 in-tray—the more and more the entire rotten mess begins to look like a cover-up. And it’s that that brings us to this week’s Word of the Week. 

Dating from the 16th century, hugger-mugger is an eminently useful but criminally underused word to describe anything or anyone that smacks of covertness, clandestineness, or questionable secrecy. As a noun, it can be used as a synonym for any of those, or else a tight-lipped secret-keeper or, in the phrase in hugger-mugger, to describe anything done surreptitiously or in secret. 

As an adjective, it simply means “secret”, “undercover”, “stealthily concealed”, or else can be used to describe anything kept hidden or suppressed. And as an adverb, it refers to the act of doing or keeping something away from prying eyes. 

Etymologically, the origins of hugger-mugger are shrouded in mystery, with little to go on besides a tentative and by no means indisputable connection to a curious Middle English word, mukre, meaning “to horde”. But perhaps that mystery is somewhat appropriate given its meaning—and, for that matter, the events that it can be applied to this week.

Illustration by @Bread_and_Ink

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