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The language of conquest and control

Vincent 4:59 pm, May 19th 2011

We get the politicians that our language deserves.

If you can’t see the video, sorry. Here’s the transcript of it:

Now that the mudslinging, backbiting and tearjerking of the local election is all over, I thought I’d share with you one of the things that I noticed that interested/disgusted me. Namely, the language used around the reporting of results. Or, to be more accurate, the language used around the declaring of victories and defeats.

‘Labour takes Telford and Wrekin’ – that’s what the headline said. Now in this sentence, the very active thing was ‘Labour’. They’re the ones doing the doing. Poor old Telford and Wrekin (wherever Wrekin is – they were just the ones having it done to them. As far as I know the people of Telford and Wrekin might like having it done to them, but that’s not the point. We can’t expect our elected representatives to understand the relationship we have with them – or more importantly the relationship we should have with them – if we allow them and the media to use this kind of language.

When Labour ‘takes’ Telford and Wrekin, Telford and Wrekin is just the spoils of war. Labour are like this invading army taking territory. So it’s not surprising that this invading army of Labour councillors goes on to fiddle their expenses and disappoint the good burghers of Telford and Wrekin with poor planning decisions and inefficient public lavatories.

Now last time I looked, this isn’t really how elections worked. Telford and Wrekin (Wrekin, by the way, is about 4 miles West of Telford, in case you’re interested – I looked it up on Google), when they went to vote, they were the ones doing the doing. What that headline should have said is ‘Telford and Wrekin take Labour’. They chose Labour. The power rested with them. If language was used this way, we’d have a very different relationship.

The truth is, given the way elections are conducted in this country, it might be more accurate to say ‘the people of Telford and Wrekin take Labour. They chose Labour. It was their decision’. If the headline said ‘Telford and Wrekin choose Labour, at least for the time being’, it might have reminded those Labour councillors where power really lies – with the people. Their tenure is merely temporary.

If we could move away from all these military metaphors and talk instead about public service, maybe the people of Telford and Wrekin would get better planning decisions, and better public conveniences.


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