Monday, 25 March 2013

The worst thing about the budget

Regular readers will know that a bugbear of this blog is political jargon, the stock phrases and clichés that litter politicians’ speeches.

Bravo, then, to the Telegraph’s Tom Chivers for spotting the worst thing about George Osborne’s budget speech, a major flaw that eluded other journalists; the grim phrase “aspiration nation”:
It’s hard to imagine a way you could abuse the English language more efficiently. It rhymes, for a start, which makes it sound (as a colleague put it) like the name of a bad instrumental jazz album. It is also simultaneously trying to sound clever (“Aspiration! It’s like hope, except it’s got four syllables”) and patronising us (“OK peons, this should be simple enough for you to remember”). For a two-word phrase, that’s good going.
Osborne is not the only culprit:
Every Budget, every major political speech, has to have its own “Aspiration Nation” moment these days. A worthy subset of the population needs to be defined, its undeserving opposite implicitly criticised; the speaker and their party is thus placed on the side of the angels, the hard-working strivers and the little man crushed between the uncaring cogs of the economic machine. “The squeezed middle”, “Mondeo Man”, “Alarm-clock Britain”. The PR teams and focus groups that form the withered heart of 21st-century government create these labels in the hope that a large enough demographic group hears them, thinks “Yes! I am financially squeezed/drive a mid-range saloon/own an alarm clock! This man/woman has seen into my soul and knows the true me: my hopes, my dreams, my morning routine. He/she can be trusted with stewardship of this country”, and puts a cross in the appropriate box.
Despite the competition, Chivers rates Osborne’s catchphrase the worst of the bunch:
...of all of these stupid, intelligence-insulting little nonsense-phrases, “aspiration nation” is surely the worst. The horrible jargony feel, as if the speaker is about to demand that we action it, going forward; the sheer unoriginality of it, a pointless rewording of all the “hard-working families” and “strivers, not shirkers” that we have heard with such unrelenting tedium for however many years.
Is it too much to hope that the Liberal Democrats will turn their backs on this sort of soulless, hackneyed language? Apparently it is.

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