Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Dinna Fret, Ian - It's Tougher If You're Posh

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Dinna Fret, Ian - It's Tougher If You're Posh

Article excerpt

Byline: SIMON JENKINS

Far from being handicapped by his speech, Labour chairman Ian McCartney's Glaswegian accent is actually an asset THE chairman of the Labour Party, Ian McCartney, thinks he is handicapped as a leader by having a thick Glaswegian accent. "I'm proud of my accent," he says.

"Britain is made up of different backgrounds and different accents, and thank goodness for that." English toffs and Westminster "villagers" can get stuffed. If the worst comes to the worst, he might go off an run a football team, where "exotic accents are expected".

Some of us thought the only way to get on in politics these days was to have a Scottish accent, or at least a regional one. If the Speaker, Gordon Brown, John Reid, Alistair Darling, John Prescott, David Blunkett, Paul Murphy and others can rise and shine, the chief handicap would seem to be a London accent, not a Glasgow one. I doubt if any Cabinet in history has echoed to so few metropolitan voices.

The only member of the Government to be orally challenged in this respect is Tony Blair. As he struggled after an elocutionary "Third Way" and dropped his public school voice, he did not adopt a Fettes Scots lilt, but paid London the compliment of the faintest touch of "estuary". He spattered his sentences with glottal stops, dropped Ts and Hs, and practised his "y'knows", "ah means" and "reellys". For these mercies London should presumably be grateful.

To me, it is not Mr McCartney's accent that is the problem but his patois.

He refuses to give an inch to his English audience by softening his vowels or paying lip service to the noble English consonant. I am a fan of regional English.

Long may it survive and prosper.

But a politician eager to communicate cannot expect his listeners to struggle for three or four sentences to pick up his cadence and understand what he is on about.

This is not about class but comprehension. I doubt if a Mile End cockney or a Willesden Sikh would find Mr McCartney any easier to understand than I do.

But this is perilous territory.

The Welsh and the Scots are lucky. They have a variety of accents which, to most " foreigners", sound merely Welsh or Scottish. Likewise does an American sound simply American.

THEIR speech is not manifestly shot through with class.

Hence the success of a Welshman and a Scotsman presenting the BBC's Today programme. Rudeness is somehow more artless from the mouth of a Celt than from an English Paxman.

Not so the English. "It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth," declared Shaw's Henry Higgins, " without making some other Englishman despise him."

As Kate Fox says in her intriguing new study, Watching the English: "All English people are fitted with a sort of social Global Positioning Satellite that tells us a person's position on the class map as soon as he or she begins to speak. …

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