The language of politics today seems to be all hat and no trousers, with politicians muttering about 'inclusive diversity culture' and the 'values vacuum', or holding forth on 'sustainable development', 'extraordinary rendition' and 'joined-up government'.
From the smooth on-message spin of New Labour in its heyday to the sibylline malapropisms of Bush and Rumsfeld, we all agree politicians' words mean less (and perhaps more) than they seem to. Politicians are liars, circumlocutors or blathering fools, and worthy candidates for little more than 'bad English' awards.
Dare we ask, then: what's wrong with political jargon? Are new-fangled buzzwords necessarily about obfuscation, or do they simply reflect the fast-changing character of contemporary politics? Do politicians use managerial terminology to pull the wool over our eyes, or does obscure language simply reflect the growing distance between the political class and the public?
The emergence of Barack Obama in the US has led to suggestions that inspiring political rhetoric is making a comeback. Is this to be welcomed, or are silky speeches just another species of spin? Shouldn't we judge politicians more by what they do than what they say they think they mean?- Institute of Ideas
Dolan Cummings is research and editorial director at the IoI. He edits the IoI's reviews website, Culture Wars and is a co-convener of the yearly Battle of Ideas festival, next taking place in London in October 2007.
Cummings's interests lie in the relationship between ideas and politics, the role of the intellectual, ideology, and religion in public life. He is especially interested in the question of intellectual authority and how it is contested. Cummings firmly believes that politics should start from the needs and passions of the public, and that this puts a premium on open debate and free speech. Most recently he has edited a collection of essays, Debating Humanism by contributors to the Battle of Ideas 2005.
His interest in the role of intellectuals builds on Ideas, Intellectuals and the Public, a conference he organized in 2003.
Robert Eaglestone is Professor of Contemporary Literature and Thought at Royal Holloway, University of London, where he is also Deputy Dean of Arts and Humanities and Director of Royal Holloway's Holocaust Research Centre.
He is the author and editor of several books and articles on British and European literature, literary theory and philosophy as well as on the Holocaust and other genocides. His work has been translated into five languages. He is the Editor of the Routledge Critical Thinkers series, which have sold over 120,000 copies world-wide.
He has received research awards from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust. He advises the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the British Council and has written for the national press.
Angus Kennedy, head of external relations for the Institute of Ideas, for which he programs the annual Battle of Ideas Festival in London and its international satellite events. He is the convenor of the institute’s new initiative The Academy and chairs its Economy Forum. Kennedy writes for publications including spiked and Culture Wars on subjects such as the Holocaust, classics, culture and the arts, economics, and moral philosophy. He is also a member of the European Cultural Parliament (ECP).
Steven Poole is the English author of the books Unspeak (2006), about contemporary political language (shortlisted for the 2006 Index on Censorship T.R. Fyvel Award), and Trigger Happy (2000), about the aesthetics of videogames, as well as a composer of music for documentaries and short films, including the award-winning EVOL.
He has also written very many articles, mainly on books, music and other cultural matters, for the Guardian, the New Statesman, the Times Literary Supplement and so on, of which a few hundred can be read on his website.
He has appeared at the Sydney Writers's Festival, the Bath and Edinburgh Literary Festivals, the Rotterdam Film Festival, and GameHotel, as well as on BBC television, BBC radio, NPR, ABC radio, and other media outlets.