Election jargonbuster

The World Today Published 12 June 2015 Updated 7 December 2018 1 minute READ

Thank goodness the election is over. Depending on your view of the outcome, of course. But the one benefit on which we can all agree is that we will not hear the clichés peculiar to political campaigning for a while – possibly, not in such concentrated doses at least, for a whole five years.

First the starting gun is fired. Then the parties make their retail offers. Then the metaphors of war, sport and card games are deployed. The leaders rally their troops. They wheel out their big guns (disappointingly this turns out to mean John Major or John Prescott).
After the starting gun goes off it turns out that the race is a marathon not a sprint. Then they play their trump cards or call each other’s bluff.

Naturally, journalists say that this is the most important general election for a generation. They keep up a running count of the number of days left, which politicians pick up by telling us that there are so many ‘days to save’ the pound, the NHS, the Union, and so on.
Thus politicians and journalists compete with each other in fatuity. Politicians sloganize about ‘hardworking families’ and compare the nation’s macro-economic policy to a household budget or a credit card. Journalists talk about ‘the keys to Downing Street’, and commentators try to sound profound by talking about the new era of multi-party politics, or saying it’s not one election, it is 650 individual elections. The easy way for politicians to avoid difficult questions about policy detail is to talk about ‘direction of travel’ and to say: ‘I’ve been very clear about this.’

Awkward questions about opinion polls – always ‘too close to call’ – were deflected with: ‘The only poll that counts is the poll on polling day’ (how true that turned out to be).

The parties set out their ‘red lines’ for post-election negotiations (again, how they were mocked by the result).
As the political news cycle turns ever faster, its speed and ever-changing jargon leaves the British people further behind, reinforcing the impression that the whole conversation is just for a limited circle in Westminster who are practised in politspeak.