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QUENTIN LETTS: The expressions heard at Culture Questions

Valerie Vaz, Shadow Leader of the House, complained yesterday that Prime Minister’s Questions is turning into ‘Prime Ministers Slogans’. She has a point

Valerie Vaz, Shadow Leader of the House (and sister of that leviathan de nos jours, Keith), complained yesterday that Prime Minister’s Questions is turning into ‘Prime Ministers Slogans’. She has a point.

As Miss Vaz pointed out, Theresa May has a dreadful weakness for lifeless sloganeering such as ‘fit for the future’.

Mrs May is not alone in using language that dampens our spirits. One reason the British have come to hold politicians in contempt is that they speak such uninteresting English.

They do so because they are lazy and patronising. They are too idle to think up new ways of expressing thoughts and they take the view that voters deserve no better.

Words thus acquire the consistency and flavour of instant-mixed mashed potato. Take some of the expressions heard yesterday morning at Culture Questions:

■John Glen, a culture minister, was asked a question that he wanted to avoid. He therefore began his reply with the preamble ‘what I can say is…’. You will hear this often in radio and television interviews. The expression ‘what I can say is…’ means ‘I’m not going to answer that but what I would prefer to talk about is…’.

■‘We are working with (insert name of some quango) to ensure that…’. Sports minister Tracey Crouch said this twice in quick succession. ‘Working with’ usually means ‘leaning on’ or ‘both we and (insert name of quango) are reluctant to submit to this irksome and tokenistic proposal and we have put it on the long finger and will go on talking about it for the next few years before doing anything about it’.

■ ‘Roll-outs’. We heard quite a lot yesterday about ‘superfast broadband roll-out’ – a Tory from Stirling, Stephen Kerr, was at it – and how it is all going humdingingly. Sure thing. In our part of Herefordshire the broadband is as slow as a slug moving across a particularly juicy hosta leaf. While I can take a philosophical view of that, the term ‘roll-out’ is less easy to bear. It creates a bogus air of busy, efficient doings.

■‘Building on’, ‘taking this forward’ and ‘delivering’ (the urgency, the sense of courier-motorcyclist despatch!), all of which were uttered by various nincompoops yesterday morning.

■‘Frameworks’ – Miss Crouch yesterday, but many of them use it. Sometimes there are ‘delivery frameworks’, sometimes there are ‘policy frameworks’, ‘service frameworks’, ‘licensing frameworks’ and even ‘pan-government collaborative framework agreements’ (three cherries for that one). The public hears these words and their eyes become as glazed as a Boxing Day ham.

Mrs May is not alone in using language that dampens our spirits. One reason the British have come to hold politicians in contempt is that they speak such uninteresting English

Mrs May is not alone in using language that dampens our spirits. One reason the British have come to hold politicians in contempt is that they speak such uninteresting English

■A new one but a horrid one: ‘cultural learning activities’. This was from Mr Glen. He was talking about school trips and how pupils benefited from such ‘cultural learning activities’, not least because they could be given ‘healthy lunches’ at the same time. What bliss for the official class to ram some low-calorie nosebag down the kiddywinks while also shoving politically-approved culture down their gullets. Mr Glen is minister for libraries. Can he not borrow a guide to crisp, clear prose?

■‘Disappointing’ – this has become the euphemism of choice when a politician wants to say ‘bloody annoying’. It was used yesterday by Culture Secretary Karen Bradley when she was talking about how the EU has chopped British cities out of its European City of Culture programme (seems fair to me, given that we are leaving the EU, but hey ho). Politicians never like to admit to being brassed off about something because that carries a suggestion that they might not be all-powerful. And so instead of saying ‘the b*ggers’ or ‘damn it’, they say ‘disappointing’.

■‘Sustainable’, ‘consulted on’, ‘task forces’, ‘models’ and ‘crackdowns’. And then this from (again) Mr Glen, who hereby – cue the sound of cascading 50p bits – wins the cliché jackpot: ‘I will continue to work with the libraries task force to extend benchmarks, tool-kits and best practice, and to look at different models of delivering services.’

I hope you survive Christmas. The English language may not be so fortunate.



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