Magazine article The Spectator

The Following Cliches Must Be Avoided (like the Plague)

Magazine article The Spectator

The Following Cliches Must Be Avoided (like the Plague)

Article excerpt

Another autumn, another Queen's Speech looms. As my 11th year of parliamentary sketchwriting begins, tolerance is wearing thin. How much more political cliche can this sketchwriter take? Though I graze only on the lower slopes of information technology, I am considering the design of a software package for MPs. Could a programme be created which flashes a cliche warning onto the screen whenever the fingers at the keyboard stray into stale prose?

If anybody says 'package of measures' again, I shall scream. 'No return to Tory boom and bust' should be met with gunfire. The next Conservative who refers to the 'dead hand of socialism' should be birched. Even to whisper 'the many not the few' should be an imprisonable offence. As for the Third Way, the democratic deficit, the politics of inclusion, the Tories' golden economic legacy and Labour's 'mess we inherited', I hesitate between a simple on-screen warning and a small electric shock delivered to the typist's fingertips.

Do these people have tin ears? How can anyone write or say 'hearts and minds'? As the MP drafts his Commons contribution, 'when will the Rt Hon. gentleman come clean with the House' and tell us - yes or no? - whether the Government will 'put in place' the 'whole range of initiatives' for which 'Middle England' is 'crying out' over ('broadly') the 'weeks and months ahead', does no small voice whisper, 'Stop'?

Every Hansard yields its crop - no, I beg you, not 'bitter harvest'. Before being flogged to death a verbal formulation may once have been striking. The 'moral high ground', when first 'staked out', may have sounded an interesting destination, but any politician lazy enough to invoke it today probably isn't on it. The minister who undertakes to 'explore every avenue' is no adventurer: all avenues - of appeal, of possibility, of opportunity -- should, like the road to recovery, the path to progress and the innumerable dead ends and cul-desacs our parliamentary navigators seem to descry, be 'closed off - along with 'options' of every kind - or 'stripped away'. Let the big beasts of the political jungle find other ball parks in which to fly their kites - and keep off the grass roots.

The scenery sounds so exotic: a place where knives are out and there is blood on the carpet, where, indoors, in a dialogue of the deaf (and the purblind too) the economics of the madhouse rules, while outside a cascade of wealth - not to speak of the trickle-down effect -- beckons from the broad, sunlit uplands. What a scenario! Or doomsday scenario. Or worst-case scenario.

And then there are the cycles. Apart from the ever-present economic cycle, there are the cycle of despair and the cycle of deprivation. Why should they cycle rather than cartwheel, slide, skate or slither? If not cycling we are spiralling. There's the downward spiral, the spiral of decline and the spiralling national debt. Spirals cycle, and cycles spiral, towards black holes. These should not be confused with vicious circles and virtuous circles, nor with the poverty trap (or 'targeting' the needy, which means the same thing).

The way out of the poverty trap is by 'a hand up, not a hand-out', on a raft of proposals or a range of measures, or a whole range of measures. Or initiatives. You can cycle or you can drive as you 'visit' and 'revisit' an argument. Increasingly MPs and their schemes are 'driven' by this or that imperative. Driven by shared values and the search for 'excellence', it is now possible to revisit your working assumptions on a daily basis. …

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