The destruction of the NHS is not going to be Nick Clegg’s worse legacy. He’s done something even worse.
Language really, really matters.
Don’t worry, I’m not talking about being snobby over misspelt words or wrongly placed apostrophes. I’m talking about language affecting us in real ways which can have real-life repercussions on massively important things like our health, our well-being, our happiness.
Words really can change things in concrete ways.
There are recent examples in politics where just one little word has destroyed a political party for a generation.
In Labour’s case, in the 80s, it was the word ‘loony‘. The ‘loony left‘ haunted every Labour politician until Blair and New Labour sunk it forever by being worse than loony. They became ‘careful‘.
In the Tory’s case it was the word ‘nasty‘ – a term coined in 2002 but which is still haunting them today and is the real reason they failed to win the last election.
But even more destructive is the ongoing misuse of everyday words which affects all of us negatively in concrete ways, and the effects of this linguistic abuse can sometimes be felt for generations.
This ‘dumbing down’ of everyday words is being used more and more in marketing. A good illustration is the word ‘pure‘ when applied to orange juice for example.
If I buy pure orange juice it isn’t actually ‘pure‘ at all. It’s concentrate mixed with water. Of course it’s possible to buy ‘pure‘ orange juice but it can’t be described as ‘pure‘ because that word no longer means pure – so they tell us it’s ‘freshly squeezed‘ or ‘fresh‘ or ‘natural‘ – all of which of course it’s not.
And what is the concrete result of this misuse of words by the orange juice industry? Well – we all end up drinking lower quality orange juice.
Don’t believe me? See here:
The misuse of words has actually resulted in a real world deterioration in quality for all of us.
And so we come to Nick Clegg. Some people say the worse legacy of his being in power will be the destruction of the NHS. For example, when he was famously offered a choice by Cameron between dropping ‘reform’ of the NHS and House of Lords – he chose the latter.
But as important as I think the NHS is, I disagree. As hard as it might be – there’s a good chance the reforms can be reversed in the future – even if it takes years.
But he’s already left us with one destructive legacy which will take even longer to repair – generations possibly – if ever.
I’m talking about his misuse of one little word.
But how can his playing fast and loose with a pledge over tuition fees be worse than the destruction of the NHS?
Well think about it.
It’s 2015. Election time:
Politician: We will reverse the changes to the NHS if we win power.
Voter: How do I know you’re not just saying that to win my vote?
Politician: Fair enough. I promise to reverse the changes.
Voter: (laughing) Promise? We all know politicians will promise anything to win an election.
Politician: No – this time we mean it. We really will reverse the changes.
Voter: Prove it.
Politician: OK. I’ll pledge it. In writing.
Voter: (smirking) What – like Clegg’s written pledge not to raise tuition fees?
Politician: Oh yes. OK. Well let me put it another way then. I’ll ….. erm ….. hang on. Shit. I can’t think of any word I can use which would persuade you I really will do it if I win the election.
Voter: There you are. You’re all the same, aren’t you? Just like Clegg.
Politician: Erm …. what if I write the pledge in my own blood? Will that do?
So there you have it. Clegg has stolen the last word we had which could guarantee that our elected representatives will keep their election promises. From now on – there’s no way they can prove to us they’ll keep their word – and the concrete effect on us all will be that they won’t have to.
Clegg’s legacy of his time in power is no less than the final and complete breakdown of trust between the electorate and politicians – something so damaging our children’s children will still be finding it hard to dispel many, many years from now.
Unless, or course, we quickly invent a new word our politicians will have to stick to.
How about ‘castripulation’ for example:
castripulation – (noun): an affirmation or promise resulting in castration if broken
to castripulate – (verb intransitive): to stipulate a promise or make a pledge on pain of castration
I doubt Clegg would have broken a castripulation not to raise tuition fees.