July 6th, 2015
I’m not doing a very good job of keeping up with my blog at the moment. So this morning I dug into my archives again, and found this never-published article on political language. Not at all the sort of thing I usually put up, but it still makes me laugh, so why not?
The power of political language
It’s no secret that politicians are deeply unpopular. Some people think it’s because of all the broken promises. Others put it down to globalisation, our increasing sense of powerlessness, our need for a scapegoat.
Me? I think it’s the metaphors.
Take a typical news report. ‘As predicted yesterday, the Premier has fallen on his sword.’ ‘The Shadow Treasurer stabbed himself in the foot this morning with a serious under-costing of election promises.’ ‘The Senator, a well-known old war horse of the Liberal Party …’
In their own eyes, most of our politicians are at war. More than that, they are prancing around like robber barons in full armour. If they don’t mention rape, pillage and droit de seigneur, it’s only because the women amongst them are glaring across the House. No wonder they’re unpopular.
Of course even robber barons can’t fight all the time. So every now and then they switch to football. ‘In failing to reply to rorting allegations, the Senator has given the opposition a free kick.’ ‘The Minister for Foreign Affairs said that all her party is asking for is a level playing field.’
Now this relentlessly macho display might be just the thing for young men, but it must be increasingly difficult for the older blokes to drag the sword out of their foot yet again, strap on the armour and stride back into the fray. And what about the women? It’s hard to attract decent talent when the only metaphorical options are a chastity belt or cutting up oranges at half time.
It’s pretty obvious that we need a change. So let’s scrap the war and the footy, and go for something completely different. Something practical. Something warm and homely – like knitting.
Imagine the news reports. ‘The Prime Minister dropped several stitches today when confronted with the latest opinion polls.’ ‘Analysts are predicting that the finished taxation garment will have a considerable hole under its left sleeve.’ ‘Yesterday the Independents started unpicking the Leader of the Opposition’s foreign policy jumper.’
See what I mean? There’s still enough conflict to keep the youngsters happy, but at the same time it makes the whole thing friendlier. Someone who’s casting on the stitches of reconciliation sounds so much more approachable than someone who’s arming themselves for yet another battle over land rights. And when parliamentary debate grows heated, politicians could calm themselves by repeating the ancient mantra, ‘Knit one, purl one, knit two together; knit one, purl one, knit two together …’
It wouldn’t be long before we started to see a different sort of candidate standing for election. Televised debates would be eagerly watched as, instead of demolishing their opponent with rapier-like wit, candidates set out to demonstrate their patience, their ability to count and their skill at keeping the tension just right.
Individual politicians would be judged on their contribution to the national garment. The Member for Kennedy would be criticised for using a brand of wool not seen since the 1950s. There would be suggestions that the Leader of the Opposition might not be able to handle the really big needles. And the Treasurer would be notorious for skimping on wool, making the whole thing too tight around the armpits and leaving a lot of people with no room to move.
Obscure economic terms would go out the window, to be replaced with concepts that the smallest child could understand. A ‘budgetary surplus’ would become ‘plenty of wool left over for next year’s scarf’. A ‘budgetary blowout’ would be ‘we thought it was going to be a waistcoat but it turned into a jumper’. And a trade deficit would become ‘we sold them a pot holder, they sold us a knitted three-piece suit with matching leg warmers’.
Once they realised the benefits, I don’t think it would be too hard to persuade our politicians to change their language. But if any of them looked like clinging to the past, they’d soon find themselves left behind. You see, there’s a job satisfaction in knitting that you don’t get in war. After all, what’s a field full of bloody corpses when you could have a pair of really warm socks?