Jack Lesgrin’s week: An overload of political double-talk on Covid restrictions

By Jack Lesgrin

Clearly unclear euphemisms 

At PMQs last week, while clearing up the lack of clarity on whether the government’s guidelines about travel to ‘amber list’ countries was clear, the Prime Minister was clear: “it is very, very clear: you should not be going to an amber list country except for some extreme circumstance”. Tory backbencher Huw Merriman MP, who chairs the Transport Select Committee, noted in a later Radio 4 interview that this didn’t clear things up: “No I’m not clear at all. I thought I was clear…it’s completely unclear.” Clear? The government’s chaotic updates to local guidance for areas worst hit by the Indian variant has seen more of the same clarity from government politicians across the airwaves.

When it comes to political euphemisms, it’s worth looking out for words that don’t just evade or distort meaning, but invert meaning. These are the ‘Jimmy Saviles’ of language; they hide in plain site wearing shell suits and gold. The speaker uses words like “clear”, like someone who wears a gold medallion. It’s bold, it’s blunt and it’s deployed because the opposite is true, but that cannot be admitted. This is nothing new: Orwell wrote about this in the 1930s and 40s in the context of the Spanish Civil War.

Another more recent classic of the genre is “what we are saying is”, or “what I am saying is”, uttered by hapless British politicians doing media rounds. They use the phrase to convey to the audience that there is an agreed, confident and coherent position. The rhetorical flourish is done without thinking, but actually hints that they are reading from a “lines to take” briefing note. Readers should listen out for the phrase and ask themselves whether the spokesperson sounds convinced of the message or has any clue about the issue themselves. The truth is nearer to “What I am saying is…that I don’t understand what I am saying, that we don’t really know what we should say, and someone has written these words for me to say so it sounds like I know what to say.”

The evidence says don’t wait for the evidence 

Professor Neil Ferguson, he of “Professor Lockdown” fame, was interviewed by the Today programme last week on the Indian variant. Regarding the virulence and transmissibility of the variant, the professor quite rightly said: “it will take more time for us to be definitive about that [a possible slight flattening of the curve]. As a scientist, the professor is of course seeking evidence to substantiate a hypothesis. The government has of course taken action to mitigate the risk of the Indian variant, although many claim its actions were too late and too little. As the future public inquiry may show, there seems to be an Achilles heel in how what is known as the scientific method, applies to pandemic management.

Back in March last year the WHO’s Dr Michael Ryan stated things plainly: “Be fast. Have no regrets. You must be the first mover. The virus will always get you if you don’t move quickly.” Yet our officials and our government chose the scientific method, as they repeated ad infinitum. The scientists said there was no evidence of asymptomatic transmission, so government acted as if there was none. Again, no evidence that masks work, even though a six-year-old could explain how they do work. Mandatory mask wearing was thus delayed. Looking back, the evidence would suggest that waiting for the evidence is a bad idea when it comes to pandemics. George Orwell would be turning in his grave at this paradox.

Room for a Minister of Views?

Speaking of ghosts from the past, BBC 4’s Collections (where they let a ‘big name’, in this case Janet Street-Porter, pick an old series from the vaults) is interesting. Street-Porter has resurrected the 1980s/90s Building Sights series: 10 minute long personal reflections on architecturally interesting buildings. A youthful Jools Holland presented an episode on Canary Wharf’s main tower. He spent the whole time gently mocking the whole place for its wealth and ostentatiousness. Then from the roof terrace, looking out across the London skyline he said: “But all these facts pale into insignificance and are rather boring compared to the most important thing about this building, which is its height, and its height of course gives us an incredible view. If I could have done another job, I’d have quite like to have been Minister for Views and just gone round and looked at things”.

At the next reshuffle by Johnson or Starmer, I hope they can take inspiration from this. Perhaps post-lockdown, we can have a Minister for Walks, a Minister for Remote Working, or a Minister for Unmuting. Can readers suggest any new portfolios?

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18 Responses to “Jack Lesgrin’s week: An overload of political double-talk on Covid restrictions”

  1. Tafia says:

    It is clear to all but the clinically brain dead. You should not travel to an Amber country unless you have to, There is no law preventing you from doing so, (hence why several million people have already booked holidays to Spain – currently Amber) but if you do you will have top comply with the entry requirements when you return to UK (self-isolatem PCR tests etc) and there are over 10,000 people in England alone to physically check that you are complying or you will be automatically fined.

    Do you have some sort of problem undertsanding that? Some of the words to big for you?

    Like wise all the furore on Tuesday aabout the areas with Indian variant outbreaks. -Are we expercted top believe that the educational attainment of the likes of Burnham, Brabin etc is so poor thatthey don’t undertand what ‘guidance’, advise’ and recommend mean?

    And you also believe that government should ignore the scientific advice then as and when it becomes known. Have yoyu told the idiot-savant SXtarmer and his drooling Shadow Health Ashworth? (who both ciontinually bang in that the science must be followed) The government primarily follows SAGE (as it should do), not WHO. Even though SAGE rarely have a majority recommendation about anything – usually just a domianat minority within it.

  2. Vern says:

    I don’t know if the likes of Burnham want more control and influence from Westminster or less but one things for sure, those who voted him in as Mayor are probably questioning his ethics at present…..

    Regarding the opening paragraph and the use of phrases – Barry Gardiner’s “Let me be absolutely clear….” takes some beating, he was anything but. Corbyn’s “For the Money, not the Few” was clearly only ever for the few. “A kinder and fairer politics” delivered by those nice chaps at Labours Hard Left Momentum was never really their plan in much the same way that the polar opposite of “strong & stable” was true of Theresa May. And Trump alluded to “draining the swamp” – he may have loosened the plug a little but nowt else.

  3. Anne says:

    The figure was something like 20,000 who travelled from India to the UK after the Indian variant was identified – giving rise to Covid outbreaks with this mutation occurring- the response by the government to stop flights from India was too slow. In order to prepare for future pandemics we must learn from the past. An inquiry should be undertaken into the government’s handling of the pandemic – we must be better prepared for the next one.
    Many local authorities already have schemes for walking routes and cycle paths. These are usually organised at local level. Think we have enough Ministers – better putting money into devolution. Andy Burnham is doing a great job for Greater Manchester.

  4. Tafia says:

    The Batley-and-Spen by-Election will take place on Thurs 01 July.

    The seat – situated in West Yorkshre, became vacant when the sitting MP – Tracy Brabin, won the West Yorkshire Mayoralty.

    It appears at present that only three candidates will stand:-

    Kim Leadbetter (Labour)
    Ryan Stephenson (Conservative)
    Corey Robinson (Yorkshire Party)

    but do not be surprised if Galloway and Halloran (Ind/UKIP) and a Reform Party throw their hats in the ring last minute – but they literall have a matter of days to do so.

    This seat is a Red Wall seat, in which 59% of the elctorate voted to leave the EU in 2016. Other issues locally concern grooming gangs and allegations that the Labour Local Authority of the time awas complicit n covering-up.

    There is an awful lot of disquiet locally about Labour being cynical by selecting a candidate that had only been a member for 3 weeks (party rules say 1 year unbroken), and the fact she is the sister of the murdered Jo Cox.

    This will be a tighter battle than Hartlepool and a lot will depend on turn-out. Bookies have the seat 75% probable to go Tory.

    It would have gone Tory in GE 2019 but for the presence of the Brexit Party, and also the leader of the local UKIP group standing as an independent.

    GE 2019
    Lab – 22,594
    Con- 19,069
    Ind (UKIP) as Hy Woollen Dist) – 6,432
    LDem – 2,462
    BXP – 1,678
    Grn – 692
    Total for Leave candidates – 27,179 (Con+Ind+BXP)
    Total for Remain candidates – 25,748 (Lab+LDem+Grn)

  5. Tafia says:

    Batley & Spen

    Jayda Fransen, of neo-Nazi group Britain First has also announced she will run.

    The key to this seat is one man – Paul Halloran, who sttod in 2019 as an independent – Heavy Woolen District. He is actually the leader of UKIP in the area. Con would have took the seat in 2019 but for him. If he stands, the seat will be knife-edge. If he doesn’t, it will probably go Blue.

  6. Tafia says:

    Batley and Spen

    Galloway confirms he will be standing, as Workers Party.

  7. john P Reid says:

    the tories have Always been A ruthless determined serious professional machine

    when we should’ve been out canvassing the Corbynites and what time are you in the most it would also leave the party show me that the people who are into tribes of attention good Campaigning of delete all done

    Those who don’t want to go canvassing and see a social club of like minded people just sitting around saying how they’re the goodies, deflects from the fact that I think some people that would rather Gerry mander there way into tribalism rather than being forced to go to the electorate asking them to vote for us and look for what was once A safe seat with Labour could go to being a marginal so don’t go canvass in Marginals but try to win seats with no chance of winning

    a run of tribal groups wanting to dominate the identity politics issues discussed at local meetings, when they’re happy to only sit around discussing the revolution saying the working are thick and racist, there happy to the fact that they could lose so much money the constituency won’t exists anymore ,yet those who are struggling under austerity, Lost out from leading to the party which is a shame because It was supposed to be A good idea to help the working class when we had to struggle to keep A safe seat from losing in 2010 and 2019

  8. Tafia says:

    A|nne, always behoind the times and woefully ignorant of reality.

    The amount of people arriving from India who were infected was minute. The variants of concern now are Brazil 2 (coming from Europe), Thai and Liverpool.

    There are in fact now half a dozen or so locally mutated variants in the UK and over 100,000 across the world. We are very lucky – we are one of only two countries in Europe and a handful globally that actually check what variants are active in their countries and which one people are actually infected with. That’s the only reason you even know there is an Indian variant. There are countries right across Europe, including major EU countries, that have absolutely no iodea what variants are in their countries nor how they got in. Incidentally, not one country in Western Europe totally closed thier borders during this – it’s utterly pointless, the variants will get to you no matter what you do, as well as home mutated versions. This is going to go on for 5 years at least so you are going to have to get used to peopleright inside your own family catching one variant or another for years to come, and you are going to have to get used to carrying on as normal, without masks and distancing, while it’s happening.

  9. Tafia says:

    Batley & Spen latest

    Runners & Riders, latest best odds.

    Labour: Kim Leadbeater ( 11/8 2nd favourite )
    Sister of Jo Cox. Very limited political experience, having only joined the party a month ago, and only after Labour ignored their own rules to let her run. Initially seen within the party as the safest bet. There’s now a bit of a feeling on the ground that it’s a ‘cynical’ move on Labour’s part.

    Conservatives: Ryan Stephenson ( 8/15 favourite )
    Chairman of the West Yorkshire Conservatives, and Leeds councillor. First entered politics in 2016. Claims he’s “a fervent campaigner for the protection of the Green Belt and of the natural environment”. If elected, he’d be the first Tory candidate in the constituency for 25 years.

    LDems: Jo Conchie ( 100/1 )
    TV producer and director. Recent credits include “Bargain Brits on Benefits” and “Bargain-Loving Brits in Blackpool”. Clearly the LibDems think the people of Batley & Spen love electing TV star.

    Workers Party of Britain: George Galloway ( 200/1 )
    A familiar face to co-conspirators. Claims he’s ‘standing against Sir Keir Starmer’, and that it’s ‘curtains‘ for Starmer if Labour lose the seat. Fears within Labour that he’ll capitalise on the Israel-Palestine conflict to siphon enough votes away from Leadbeater to tip the balance. There’s a high Muslim population in the constituency, so it’s not impossible.

    Yorkshire Party: Corey Robinson ( 200/1 )
    A local medical research engineer. Obviously not a significant player in the race, although the party did come third in the West Yorkshire Mayoral election. Managing to beat the Greens and the LibDems…

    UKIP: Jack Thomson ( 200/1 )
    UKIP think a working-class area deserves Jack Thomson – “a young working-class man himself who understands the every-day struggles that real people face in their everyday lives.”

    Not Known: Paul Halloran ( 100/1 )
    Former leader of the local UKIP group and still heavily connected to them. Has a large local following. Stood in 2019 for the Heavy Woollen District Independents and took 12% of the vote. Could be the Tories’ kingmaker. Speculated to have had discussions with Tice and the Reform Party. and also Laurence Fox of Reclaim Party who he was pictured with yesterday sparking rumours he’ll ultimately side with Reclaim if he does decide to stand.

    Green Party: TBC

    Monster Raving Loonies: TBC

    Any other independents. and motley hangers on

  10. John p Reid says:

    Listened to a quote Ed Ed Miliband said from 2014
    I know what the views and the problems that are holding the country back are.
    what does that even mean? Meaningless sound bites to say he’s the solution to what the public think there isn’t even a problem

    Turn he said

    Levelling Up we agree where we are too in the divide of the terrain And hid Where as labour there’s no touch of the ecenomic in rho society

    I mean WTF no wonder he lost

    Finally he said

    When The suffocation of collectivism

    The Left can re claim freedom of choice of The freedom for those with the money
    This a sort of

    Freedom from freedom

    And the Social contract for the Private sector decent in the job new deal…

    I don’t believe the Tories are going to offer the change that’s the question who can offer it are we still security economy that wants a cute in their homes and speak to the security in their life at their work and in the south

    It was absolute B@@@@ks
    Cotizens assembly a representative of guidance in a assembly

    Meet the challenge ecenomics justice at the heart of the climate change The
    decisive hell for push there not in the challenge of Tory juries and ..
    What are you going on about Ed ??

  11. john P Reid says:

    Tony Blair’s last national executive meeting he turned to the lovely Ann black after facing criticism and said well I’ll be gone soon I can get someone else to get the middle class voted for you,To which Ann. didn’t know what to say, The fact Corbyn got the sort of middle class votes that Blair void have never dreamed of while of course Corbyn lost The working class votes is irrelevant for some
    And about running the foreign policy or any Economy does it matter if the party it runs out 0f spending other people’s money

    End in grotesque chaos of a labour party,A labour party
    Post capitalism,has Transitioned into A post work post capital technocrat hereology,

  12. John P reid says:

    Labours got to get away from the Joining the labour party to fight Thatchers legacy which while admirable, and can give members a drive , the Tory party isn’t the party of Thatcher anymore, those who vote Tory know it and what the Tories are offering is more closer to what a sensible labour party would be adding without incompetence and waste, plus more, the public know Labour members joined to fight Thatchers legacy and still while admiring it, know that Labour aren’t offering anything and to have to realise labour needs to opposing what the tories are doing now, not on a moral stance of sleaze or personal lives, but on not understanding the scale of problems needed on working class lives communities buses, the enviroment and housing and policing
    it maybe admirable to tell someone you joined labour as you hated thatcher ,but that’s not going to convince the public who also hate thatcher as they don’t think current tories have much in common with her and, labour not understanding what the public want, other than to treat them as pets won’t go anywhere

  13. Blair says:

    Indeed John P Reid, indeed.

    And I would add that a tactic of going for the middleclass vote is fair enough to win from a ‘broad base’ – nut it requires you to hold on to the working class vote as well, listen to what they want, and do it. This Labour singulalrly failed to do, it seriously and very very stupidly (amateurishly even) believed the working class had nowhere else to go and that they only had to listen to the yapping middleclass (who have become possessed with irrelevant garbage and infected the Labour Party with it).

    And they are certainly not going to take any cock of a politician seriously that attacks ‘Thatcher’s legacy’ and owns two houses (or more) at the same time, earning over £81k in the process (plus expenses) and telling them they are wrong, and being complicit in flooding the country with fake asylum seekers and covering-up industrial levels of child abuse (even opposing the deportation of the perpetrators). They can literally f**k off into a corner and die quietly. They no longer serve a purpose to the working class.

    Latest Batley betting odds – Labour are fading and the Tories moving further into the odds-on position.

  14. Tafia says:

    A lot of flapping by Labour locally at ground-level in Batley. The arch-Corbynistas are encouraging their sect of Labour voters to vote ‘anyone but Labour’ in an attempt to make sure Labour loses the seat and Starmer has to quit, force a leadeship contest and propel Rayner into top spot.

    No need to really. Labour is odds-on to lose the seat.

  15. John P Reid says:

    Militant is no different from momentum now
    When Austin Mitchell was in the Tribune group
    militant tendency in the late 70s accused Tribune group of being a pro EEC economic community group and Austin Mitchell said that’s a blatant lie I voted to leave , and lots of tribune wanted to leave the EC ,it’s just one is a reason to say anyone is a critic of them(militant) was a right winger, so they even made up tribune group were pro capitalist common market
    ( to avoid militants expulsion for rule breaking )
    Its like the fact momentum don’t like to admit they’ve more in common with Blairites than they’d want to admit, so they, led Jasper and huck Magazine say blue labour is neo liberal and supports progress magazine either making it up lying or just want things to be true so say they’re true ,to decide so then they feel they are true

  16. John P Reid says:

    When a government is in power it makes unpopular decisions , when it falls from power and then has to spend years detoxifying itself with a leader who gets how unpopular they were ,compared to say David Miliband when he stood ,who didn’t understand how popular labour was ) examples would be Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair or David cameron , respectively

    detoxifying the parties of course a party can do self-inflicted injuries to itself while in opposition ,labour with the 1981 deputy leadership of the GLC coup of 1981 ,or the loony left, but neil Kinnock certainly got brownie points detoxifying the party tackling Scargill and Hatton.
    but I’ve never known a political party so unaware that it needs to detoxify itself that it carries on infecting self inflicted injuries as labour does now , that is not just the equivalent of the loony left in the deputy leadership or to be taken on with Scargill and Hatton by the likes a Neil kinnock ,but a party that carries on inflicting self-inflicted wounds that it will eventually need to be detoxified by telling labour party members their contempt of the working class,that it’s making it self more toxic while in opposition

  17. wg says:

    John P Reid
    I’m afraid that it is worse than you think.

    I have always compared the relationship between the blue collar worker, trades unions, and Labour to being in a marriage.
    When one partner comes home with A N Other (immigration) and tells the other partner that he/she will not be needed anymore – “Here’s a few shillings. My new partner will do the work – you toddle off and get yourself some booze and drugs, and just generally find yourself something to occupy yourself.”
    What would you think of that partner turning up with a box of chocolates and some flowers later? You’d tell them to sling their hooks.

    Another analogy – Labour are like a fox that doesn’t know that it’s being hunted. People just don’t want to NOT vote for Labour now – they want to see the party dismantled from top to bottom.
    They want revenge.

    The working class people – and before people get a bit sniffy about that phrase – the ‘blue collar worker’ deserves to be represented in our UK Parliament; Labour have long ago given up on that.

    What is Labour’s purpose now?

  18. John p reid says:

    When student politics finally got hold of labour in 2010 after 25 years they weren’t gonna give it up even 4 defeats, why should they it makes them feel good about them selves
    They don’t want to win and it would admit they were wrong to tell the working class to F off and join the Tories
    And The public were right to reject us

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