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After David Cameron’s “gaffe” at prime minister’s questions last week, many will no doubt be wondering just what the appropriate term for a group of migrants is.
The reason such stories take flight is that for some serious criticism of politics takes second place to literary criticism of politics.
Not only are politician’s remarks analysed for any sign of somnolent bigotry, but policies aimed at helping migrants integrate are pulled apart for any colonial undertones – lending new meaning to the notion of modern imperialism.
The witch hunt for repressed prejudice relies on the basest of journalistic impulses: The assumption of guilt.
“Trial by media” is a stupid phrase that misunderstands the purpose and form of a trial, but some in the press and on Twitter would do well to borrow the assumption of innocence and not assume everybody to the right of Jeremy Corbyn is a closet racist.
At the same time, others work too hard to police the politeness of a discourse that governs how we live and die.
Only on Tuesday, LBC’s Shelagh Fogarty took unreasonable umbrage at RMT union leader Steve Hedley’s suggestion that the Tories “be taken out and shot” in response to the cuts he believes are “killing three disabled people a week”.
“I’m not going to let you say that, so don’t repeat it,” she said. “If your job is to represent your workers, and I was one of your workers, I would want you to represent me without resorting to things like that.”
But why the hell should Hedley not say such things? Decisions taken in Westminster and Whitehall determine indirectly or otherwise which of us will live or die early.
Money chopped from disability welfare probably has led to premature deaths (one notes that Fogarty did not dispute that much), and Hedley’s crude turn of phrase hardly seems out of place.
Sure, language matters. But it does not matter as much as some believe. It is merely a tool to convey information, and too many people take more interest in the packaging than the contents.
No doubt it makes for easy opinion pieces (this one included). And it plays well on social media for gibbering halfwits to have their name on a news story. But it leaves nobody better informed about the substance of politics.
Image Credit – Calais Jungle, January 2016 by Malachy Browne