Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Just Playing with Words?

The Queen's Speech. New government. New policies. 22 Bills. And all wrapped up in a convenient 8 minute speech. Everything hinges on three magic words: 'Freedom, Fairness and Responsibility.' The queen begins: 'My government's legislative programme will be based upon the principles of freedom, fairness and responsibility.' It's all very simple really. Isn't it?

It's something we take for granted, but the sloganeering of government is more akin to Wittgenstein language games or the rhetoric of advertorials. All the parties have used power-words like 'Change', 'Fairness', 'Future' to some extent. It's just about getting them in the right order. But this coalition is dependent on being united behind those three magic words: freedom, fairness and responsibility. As the BBC's Political Editor, Nick Robinson, puts it: "'Fairness" is Nick Clegg's favourite word and "responsibility" David Cameron's.' They should almost have name badges... Cameron sits in the Commons attempting his Prime Minsterial frown with a shiny name badge pinned to his neon blue tie: 'RESPONSIBILITY'. Cleggers sits like a dog under his legs, trying hard to get noticed, with a broken badge clinging to his 'gold' tie: 'FAIRNESS.'

So what about 'FREEDOM'? Well, I think it means us- the Big Ole Society. We're all like Mel Gibson screaming freedom, while our guts are hanging out because of the cuts. And there will be massive cuts. After the Queen softens us she declares that the coalition's main priority is to tackle the deficit. These three magic words are simply the executioner's buttering-up; the sugar coating before the axe comes down. It's an attractive word 'freedom'. Yet I can't help feeling that by arguing for a Big Society and not a Big State the new government is essentially saying: 'Bugger it. Let the public sort it out themselves. Push all the problems away to them. They'll like it... Power to the People. Freedom.... lovely. And it'll appease the Scots cos there's only one Tory seat up there!'

The real question to ask this government, though, is how those three words will play out. At what point will there be a clash of jugulars, a clash of name badges? What will happen when something is fair but not responsible? Or society has freedom but it is not fair? At the end of the day it is a clash of abstracts. Is it, however, an irresponsible, unfair use of the freedoms of the English language?

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