Sunday, 11 March 2012

Why listening to politicians has us all shouting "JFDI"!

Something was troubling me about the Ed Miliband car-crash radio interview I wrote about last week, so in an act of almost unbelievably heroic self-sacrifice, I listened to it again. It had struck me that, even allowing for his ghastly voice, his unfortunate personality, the fact that he is evidently way out of his depth, and the sheer intellectual nullity of his standard left-liberal opinions, listening to Miliband is far more annoying than it should be. Why? Well, I think I have the answer.

Performing live on television or radio is difficult, and you desperately need to buy time to sort out your thoughts – especially when, as in Miliband’s case, members of the public are giving you a terrible kicking. Richard Nixon often used a much-parodied meaningless  phrase before making a point: “Let me say this to that”. All politicians – all public speakers – have a ready stock of similar space-fillers. Miliband uses them constantly, to the extent that everyone listening ends up shouting “Just get on with it, you idiot!” Interestingly, when he doesn’t employ one of these stock phrases, he tends to um and er and often has to double back on himself and rephrase his original answer – which is the worst thing you can do in debate, because it makes you sound weak and uncertain and wooly-minded.

Here is a selection of time-buying phrases from last week’s interview, including what went through my head when he uttered each of them:

"My straight answer to that is…" (just answer it)

"Tell me what the biggest issue for you is Andrew – what is your most pressing concern?" (you're sucking up to the caller in the hope that that they'll stop telling you how useless you are)

"Let me deal with both of those two issues" (just deal with them)

"I have to say…" (just say it)

"That’s what I came into politics for" (actually, like most politicians, you entered politics because you’re weird)

"That’s why I’m in politics" (because you’re weird)

"What I will say…" (just say it)

"It comes with the territory…" (no, it comes with being you)

"That’s what you come into this gig for" ( no - you did it because you’re weird)

"I see what’s wrong and I speak out about it" (does this make you a hero?)

"What I’m saying is…" (just say it)

"Up and down the country…" (politicians are the only people who travel up and down the country - or "this great country of ours" – and they sometime even travel its length and breadth)

"Let me make this point…" (just make it)

"I do say that…" (just say it)

"Let me explain…" (no one’s stopping you)

"And that would have been the right thing to do" (so you didn’t do it)

"I came into politics because…" (I think we’ve established that it’s because you’re weird)

"We’ll just have to agree to disagree" (you have no idea how to respond)

"Why do I say that?..." (because you're stupid?)

"I’ll also add this…" (because your first point was rubbish)

"Let me say very clearly on this…" (just say it)

"Let me say why I think…" (just say it)

"The things I say about this…" (just say them)

I wonder if it’s the habitual use of such deadening, pointless language that makes us despise politicians so wholeheartedly (in addition to all the other valid reasons, of course).  For instance, Nick Clegg only has to start a sentence with his standard irritable, infinitely condescending “Look…” and I find myself praying for a 16 Ton Monty Python weight to come crashing down on his head. As for the phrase “What you have to understand is…” – anyone using that should be instantly imprisoned.

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