Saturday, June 21, 2008

colourful language

There has been a lot of colourful language around this week, and I don't mean swearing but alliteration, hyperbole, embellishment, the sort of techniques that make the difference between interesting and dull. I did like the Cameron insult of Brown 'spineless as a jellyfish'; Tom Harris is defending himself for calling the British 'bloody miserable' on his blog; but the biscuit goes to Andy Burnham. He could have said that David Davis had been having private conversations with civil liberties campaigners persuading them of his sincerity to gain their support. Instead, in an article in Progress, he said Shami Chakrabarti had been "seduced by Tory talk of how liberal they are" during "late-night, hand-wringing, heart-melting phone calls" with "the man who was, and still is I believe, an exponent of capital punishment". Chakrabarti took this as a personal slur and suggestion of something more than an attack on her politics or those of David Davis; a shrewd move as it undermines Burnham completely.

But Burnham did the damage himself. It is a smart phrase, it conjures up a range of images, for me not sexual, more of Davis as a Machiavellian persuader whispering in ears privately to get people on side. But it perhaps was not run past the communications team in his department or in No. 10 - then again maybe it was, but if it was they missed the fact that it could get coverage for being perceived as a personal attack on Chakrabarti rather than an attack on the politics of Davis. So, the language used achieved the aim, it was repeated and publicised across the media. But the language elicited the wrong reaction and so gained negative coverage. Perhaps it is symbolic of a government that seems to just get everything wrong and gets punished for everything, certainly it gives the impression of desperation in their attacks the way the media has treated the story.

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