Moderate language puts limits on political criticism

Following the rancour in our newly recalled Parliament (or our never prorogued Parliament, if you believe the Supreme Court), the call for “moderation” in political language has been revived, particularly among those who previously accused the prime minister of launching a “coup” against them.

That dig notwithstanding, it is generally worth being generous to your political opponents. This includes not impugning their motives without cause, assuming they want the best for the country (albeit a different best from yours), and trying to characterise their argument accurately. 

However, there are bad people in politics who deserve to be criticised. Boris Johnson, for instance, is a liar, an opportunist, a blagger, and perhaps even financially corrupt, given the reports of his “technology lessons” with an attractive entrepreneur in Shoreditch.

Presumably saying these things mildly risks the chance somebody will attack him. But they are all true statements, or at least fair given what we know. Is it “immoderate” to say so?

Turning back to the hard remainers and fans of mildness: There are people in this country who are working to nullify the EU referendum. 

I’d guess most of them honestly think the referendum was corrupted by big data, or that voters were misled, or simply that voters were unqualified and it is better not to obey them.

It is reasonable to say these people, including Gina Miller, Alastair Campbell, and AC Grayling, are undermining democracy through their actions. Put more rudely, they are betraying British democracy. They are seeking a capitulation. It is a surrender, and it is humiliating.

There are nicer and nastier ways to say these things, but telling people to “moderate their language” is not merely an instruction to be more polite; it is an instruction not to rebuke people, justified or not. Broadly applied, “moderation” is a restriction on political criticism.

Such criticism probably does risk inspiring a nutter to attack the target, albeit only slightly. But I can’t see how politics can work if people are not allowed to call out bad behaviour in strong terms.

Jimmy Nicholls
Writes somewhat about British politics and associated matters. Contact

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