How Politicians Talk To You: Oven-Ready Rhetoric during the General Election
Illustration by Si SlyMoon
Luke Murphy dissects the slogans of the 2019 General Election and what they reveal about class, Empire, royalty and racism in Britain today.
As another general election campaign draws to a close, it is worth valuing the small things. Political language may feel small, but it comes loaded with hidden meaning. George Orwell warned us about the “oven-ready” phrases of politicians crowding our minds and thinking our thoughts for us.
In 2019, we can recite these phrases like a child recites their lines at a nativity. But what do they reveal?
“Get Brexit Done”
Before the General Election was called, the UK was finally talking about how to evolve Brexit from a bus slogan to a constitutional resolution. But in their campaign, the Conservatives sent Brexit back to its natural, simplistic home. Now all we need to do is “Get Brexit Done”.
Of course, Brexit will never really be done. Brexit means years of negotiations for a single trade deal and then endless negotiation about every change. Consider Switzerland’s most recent EU negotiation which started in 2014. On the table is the same menu of thorny issues such as movement of people and agricultural products. Despite coming to an agreement only last year, the Swiss Government failed to ratify the deal and it remains unresolved.
We can no more “Get Brexit Done” then move physically away from our closest neighbours on the continent.
“I will adopt a neutral stance”
In family disputes, a referee can be useful. But Jeremy Corbyn was roundly attacked for announcing his neutrality on Brexit.
We are so unused to this. For the first time, we must ask whether neutrality can be a trait of strong leadership or is condemned to play the poor relation to decisiveness. Is neutrality even in the British DNA, which demands a view on everything? Perhaps this forms part of our ‘Great Power’ complex. After all, the British Empire was not built on neutrality.
“I’m not in the top 5%! I’m not even in the top 50%!”
Not said by a politician, but revealing of our political language.
One confident member of the BBC Question Time audience, despite admitting he earned at least £80,000, couldn’t accept that he earned like the few, not the many. It shows how seductive Labour’s slogan continues to be because, in his bones, the man saw the rich as ‘other’ people.
If income feels so irrelevant compared with the feeling that you’ll always be hierarchically below certain people, it shows just how stuck Britain is in its class system.
“It was a shooting weekend. Just a straightforward shooting weekend.”
Luckily for him, Prince Andrew is not a politician otherwise he would have to do things like be interviewed by police.
During lengthy denials of association with rapists and paedophiles, the Queen’s son reminded us who the Question Time audience member might have had in mind – those who sort their shooting weekends into straightforward and non-straightforward.
“…if you wear a hijab, turban, cross…”
In its online video promoting inclusion, Labour did not include a Jewish symbol in its list of religions. Considering that it is under investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for anti-Semitism, such an omission cannot be accidental.
It is now for the EHRC to assess just how serious anti-Semitism is in the party but this exclusion from its own video is damming, revealing the party’s choice not to take basic and professional steps to contain the crisis – steps such as saying sorry, making an effort to build bridges with the Jewish community and being seen to do so. Instead, the party has put up more barriers to vote-winning and allows suspicion to grow, not to mention causing hurt and worry for Jewish people.
what the papers don’t say
The Conservative Manifesto…
…contained nothing. Boris Johnson also refused the traditional grilling by the BBC’s Andrew Neil. This is a case of how politicians don’t talk to you. The Conservatives hoped voters would wave them back into government on the back of a repeated three-word phrase because, after nine years in power, even discussing ideas in public has become toxic.
Having cut what was needed, the Conservatives now sell public services back to us as ‘extra’ or ‘more’. 50,000 extra nurses, 20,000 more police. It’s a sleight of hand since it includes what was already planned and lets us assume change will disproportionately happen overnight.
Selling something as ‘extra’ – like 10% extra cereal in the same box – shows the ‘doggy treat’ nature of our politics. Any politician attempting more than superficial change faces the irresistible doggy treat that is “20,000 extra police”. Why not 21,000 or 21,945?
The doggy treat approach has no roots in supply or demand because it treats voters, not as active citizens with ideas for the future, but as passive consumers with instinctive desires, who beg for quick satisfaction.