Friday, May 07, 2010

Lies, Damned Lies and Semantics

A guest post from Elena Newley. You can follow Elena on twitter as @autismwales or read her blog Planet Mouret Films

Lies, Damned Lies and Semantics....

So, ok, here we are. We've had the election and now we appear to have no government at all! I don't know about anyone else but I am already getting confused between the notions of 'pacts' and 'understandings'. It would seem they are very different.

I've just watched Nick Clegg giving an extremely cleverly worded statement. As a student of semantics, I listened very hard to all the words and tried not to focus too much on the overall meaning! Unpicking that statement in a linguistic way, seems to indicate to me that he's playing a very clever, if somewhat risky, game. But I can very well understand why he is doing that...

The Press are already running with “Clegg offers first refusal to Cameron” straplines, followed by the type of sub-editing lines we've become used to in this Murdoch-infested day and age, of “Gordon is pushed out of the picture”. I suspect we're all so tired now having stayed up all night imagining we might find out who had actually won, that many of us may be at the point of taking these announcements at face value. If so, could I please sound a rather loud note of caution?

The press seem to unilaterally believe that Clegg stated, during the election campaign, that he would be willing to form a government with whichever Party won the most seats, based on some sort of 'principal of fairness'. However, I would very strongly argue that he has never, at any point, actually said that. What Clegg actually said was that he thought the Party with the most seats should “try” to form some sort of government. That's very different to saying the Tories should run the country or that he really believes that they have any public mandate to do so.

And now, this morning, Clegg has produced an equally triangulated statement in which he appears to be starting the dating process with the Tories. His statement sounded a little like he was up for a chaperoned meeting with David Cameron with a view to a possible engagement if his parents agreed!

However, if you unpack his statement, what he actually appears to be saying is that he is going to stand by his pre-election promise (you know, the one he never actually made!) that he felt the Party with the most seats had the right to get first go at forming a government and that the Liberal Democrats would listen to anything Cameron had to say so long as … and here comes the zinger... the Conservatives sought to form a Government which was in the national interest. Oh, how I love words...

Still with me? Good!

So, clever old Clegg has said everything and nothing all in one statement. Hmm, perhaps he's not offering as much of a 'change' as we were led to believe!

The point being, for those of you who haven't lost the will to live and are still reading this, he's really saying that yes, David Cameron is welcome to begin courting him but ONLY on the understanding there's no kissing on the first date! Well, ok, that's not exactly what he's saying but you take my point? The real point in Clegg's statement was that he wants to be seen to be playing the game, abiding by the country's wishes (and if he knows what the country's wishes ARE, he's one step ahead of me that's for sure!) in as much as he's willing to listen to Cameron if, and very probably only if, Cameron will agree to his previous four demands which, if my memory serves me correctly, centered on electoral reform, budget reform, environmental issues and something else which escapes me at the moment!

Ok, so here we go, Clegg could concievably work with Cameron if perhaps Cameron agreed to have a public referendum on the idea of electoral reform (for “electoral reform” read proportional representation!) but I just can't see how the Tories could agree to this. If they DID agree, then they would really have no option but to abide by the outcome of any referendum and, I don't know what all of you think, but my own feeling is that if we can't even elect a Government, then it's doubtful we're going to come up with the 'right' answer on electoral reform. When I say 'the right answer' – of course, I mean the 'right' answer by David Cameron's standards, not by ours! We are all going to have to learn that what WE want really doesn't come into any of it too much!

And, be warned, referendums have a nasty habit of coming back and biting us on the metaphorical rears! Referendums have a fairly impressive past history of having to be repeated endlessly until the public (and that's 'us'!) finally give the 'right' answer, viz a vis the Irish Republic and the various referendum's on the Lisbon Treaty (which went from a resounding 'No' vote in the beginning, to a somewhat exhausted 'Yes' vote before it was accepted by the Taoiseach as being the 'right answer'!)

If you're lost in this Westminister-led miasmic triangulation – join the club!

But just remember... never, never, never, take statements at face value. Yes, Clegg may very well want to appear to be 'doing the right thing' but, before we let ourselves get too carried away or adoring of the marvellous Nick, maybe we should all ask ourselves what 'the right thing' actually is?

What do YOU want? A minority Tory or Labour government who rule only with Liberal Democrat abstentions? A coalition government of the type of the last Lib-Lab pact whereby the Lib Dem's and the Tories or Labour actully FORM a government and actively SUPPORT each other? They are very definitely two very different things. One is a form of parliamentary active consent and the other is a kind of parliament two-tin-cans-and-pieces-of-string, Heath-Robinson type of affair which really only has one inevitable outcome; another General Election within the next few months.

The problem is, I cannot, for the life of me, see how Clegg COULD govern actively with the Tories on many of the major issues, the budget reforms being one of the most obvious areas of disagreement. Could Clegg agree that the Lib Dem's would simply abstain and thereby allow Tory policy through Parliament? He could but only if he gains some fairly major concessions from Cameron, electoral reform being the most obvious thing there. Personally, I just can't see Cameron being able to persuade his own Party of that, let alone anyone else. And it's salient to note that Clegg was seemingly very clear whenever he talked about his demand for electoral reform prior to the election, I didn't hear any 'let's try' in those statements, they were categorical and definite, he would demand electoral reform if there was a hung parliament before he would agree to work with any Party.

So, there you have it, or quite possibly you don't!

So just be warned, we are all now in for an absolute bombardment of rolling news programmes featuring 'experts' on British consitutional law and tired-looking politicians arguing their respective corners, BUT if you manage to stay awake long enough to actually listen to anything any of them say …. just remember … it's not WHAT they say, it's HOW they SAY it that matters.

Look at the words, look at the words, look at the words ….

Thanks Elena!


MikeN said...

That's all well and good but I think you might have placed a little too much faith in the assumption that Clegg knows exactly what he said at any given point in time, whereas in fact he was too busy playing the middle man - to the point that he even implied denial of the lib-dems own policies at times (for example with a load of eye-rolling on European issues).

He did well, and were he in a party that had ever stood a chance I think he'd have done better, but his only role here was to play the other two off against each other and pick up the stragglers ...

Oikoman said...

Clegg is in a difficult position... if he is to have any influence at all he has to tread very carefully, trying to get concessions from the party in power with the implied threat of pulling support, but without becoming so obstructionist that he becomes marginalized by both parties (and the electorate).

Dave said...

Thanks for the guest post BG. I thought elections were about democracy, you know, the people voting?
Silly me.
The people voted. They've made it clear that it's "none of the above"

Now we get the dodgy deals behind closed doors. The very antithesis of democracy.
If there were any honour among these thieves they should call the election void and start again.
but don't hold your breath.

And while this farce is being played out the economy is busted.
The debt is still rising and they're still partying like it's 1999.

Anonymous said...

Oh come on. What is it with people and how "we" or "the people" voted. Nobody voted for a hung parliament. In regards to Dave's comment, I was going to say that nobody voted for "none of the above", but in fact 125 people did, in Basildon South & Thurrock East. OK, and if you want we can add the 327 who voted for No Candidate Deserves My Vote in Stevenage. But for the rest of the country it wasn't on the ballot. And how about the about 30% who actually did vote for nobody by not going or because they're not allowed to vote.

What actually happened was that I, and most of us in the South, voted for a Conservative government. In Scotland and the northeast of England and in inner cities, THEY voted for a Labour government. So yes, when you combine the results "we" didn't choose anybody overall. But that isn't a valid way of summarising what happened. Besides, the Tories do have a majority in England, so if we do get an "English parliament" it would be blue.

Presumably if we have an EU IN/OUT referendum, which the INs win by 51/49, you will say "the British people want to stay in the EU". That just wouldn't be true.

transfattyacid said...

What all of this chatter overlooks is whether the party leaders can in fact keep their own party in line.

Gordon might offer electoral reform but anyone with any sense in the labour party knows this is electoral suicide.

The Lib Dems are split between those who feel comfortable with Labour and those who are more inclined to the Tories.

And the Conservatives have largely remianed silent in the face of Cameron's 'modernisation'. Now that this process has patently been shown to have failed - in terms of making them electable - how many are going to make a name for themselves by opposing Cameron?

And then there is the West Lothian question. England is effectively being held to ransom by Scots, Welsh and Irish MPs who will imposing policies that have no effect on their constituents. When the English wake up to this fact and see money being cut from their Health and Education budgets and flowing to the Celtic fringe, they are not going to be best pleased - especially if people like Alex Salmon are seen to take a prominent role.

Personally I would like to see the Conservatives spurning the Lib Dems, and forcing them into bed with a Lame Duck Labour government - if for no other reason it will bring the West Lothian question to the front of the political agenda.

Fire Byrd said...

Oh interesting times to 'get real' in!

Anonymous said...

I couldnt agree more with transF
fattyacid.. Let Scotland and Wales go and don't come back to the Westminster asking for hand outs! Labour get 20 seats for 1/40 of the vote and thats all thanks to Scotland who are part represented by a party that doesn't want to be part of GB and the other half by a Labour Governemnt willing to let hand over money but have no say!

BenefitScroungingScum said...

I'm not thinking of anything more complicated than 'ouch, whinge, ouch' at the moment but Elena will be along to answer all your comments as soon as she can. BG