We are in an age where the time-worn axiom ‘sticks and stones can break my bones but words could never harm me’ might need to give way to the truism ‘loose lips sink ships’.
In the context of language in parliamentary debate, there’s no bigger ship that the British parliament (House of Commons), the perceived ‘mother of all parliaments’.
But, as evidenced in its chambers last week, and in the wider public debate about Brexit (the controversial process of the UK leaving the European Union), harsh words from loose lips have shocking effect.
They cause hurt, mental anguish - and in some instances lead to egregious harm…sometimes fatal.
A regrettable amount of bile has entered into the UK’s political discourse, especially over Brexit.
It’s crude, unstatesman/woman like, in many cases unparliamentary, and generally not acceptable in formal debate or even casual exchanges, especially on matters of national policy.
The term ‘the political arena’ seems to have taken on a meaning more in keeping with the Roman-era battle-to-the death gladiatorial encounters.
Losing an argument gracefully is no longer an option it seems.
Sorry now really seems to be the hardest word.
And at this rate, it will only get worse.
Last week's debate in the British parliament has shone the spotlight on the effects of the crass use of language, which defiled even the internationally-respected (and emulated) forum where strident but polite political debate has over the years set the tone for global parliamentary conduct.
It stemmed from a unanimous 11-judge Supreme Court ruling declaring a controversial prorogation of parliament by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to be unlawful.
It’s safe to say that subsequently all hell broke loose in the ensuing debate as sittings ‘continued’ the following day. The Supreme Court ruling deemed that parliament had not even been suspended.
In the chamber, both sides of the House engaged in a toxic exchange that forced the Speaker the following day to appeal for a return to decorum.
At the midst of this is Britain’s Brexit debacle and the language which has erupted from it.
It was even evident before the Supreme Court ruling that the use of incendiary language was becoming a cause for concern.
But it ramped up in its aftermath with some campaigners referring to judges as ‘enemies of the people’, suggestions of incitement to riots of Brexit is not pushed through, and even death threats against parliamentarians.
The latter is quite chilling considering that an anti-Brexit British parliamentarian was murdered for her beliefs by a right-wing extremist.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson dismissing an appeal from a female member of parliament's call for him to tone down the Brexit rhetoric and apologise for his choice of words out of respect to the murder of an MP and increasing threats made against others, only inflamed the situation further by dismissing her plea as humbug.
No matter how much he subsequently - and reluctantly - tried to contextualise it, it reflected badly on him.
His labelling elements of the Brexit-related laws passed by parliament as a surrender bill doesn't help either.
Where practised delicate tiptoes and pirouettes would be a better linguistic option, many in the top echelons of British politics seem more inclined to stomp their way through this Brexit minefield of emotions.
It permeates through the body politic, filters into the wider society, entrenches itself forming hardline mindsets and engenders division.
The country is caught in an almighty struggle to wrest itself from the Brexit entanglement but only seems to be further tying itself up in knots.
In so doing it renders calls to ‘dial down the rhetoric’ as if falling on deaf ears.
But it's not that the ears are deaf, it’s the positions that have become so entrenched, so deeply trapped in unyielding positions that any shifting, if only to accommodate another perspective worthy of consideration, is seen as a sign of weakness.
Into this rancid cauldron, the hard-right right and the hard-left meet at the extremes with their venomous rhetoric; the horseshoe effect.
The process of arriving at that toxic wasteland of political extremism travels is steeped in intolerance; crude, reckless, intemperate language by people who should know better…and in a country that prides itself on its dexterity in the tactful use of language.
In recent times we have seen a rise in this worrying phenomenon with its main cheerleader being the United States president Donald Trump, and other right-leaning leadership figures on the global stage.
Tactics that seem to be ripped straight from the pages of the Donald Trump/Steve Bannon/Breitbart playbook have made their way into British politics, largely stage-managed by special advisors who seem to have no qualms in exploiting language to the maximum nefarious effect.
Echoes of this are now gradually creeping into some of our island discourse.
What might once have been taken for granted in our islands as a form of political entertainment is at risk of taking on more sinister tones as some of our politicians - as is the norm - ‘follow fashion’ of what they see as trends and examples in the bigger countries.
But some metropolitan societies we tend to emulate for perceptions of sophistication are now descending into a morass of loose language with its disruptive - and destructive - side effects.
Time to dial back and rhetoric... and apologise as befits.
Sorry doesn’t have to be the hardest word.
24 Sep, 2019
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