You Said, What?

A regular complaint about politics is the lack of plain speaking.

Even when truths are unavoidably uncomfortable, a lack of ambiguity (removing any excuse for convenient misunderstanding) will annoy some people. No matter how gently explained, the tone of the varnish can be criticised as, of course, are expletives deployed for emphasis.

Just recently there was much media anguish over whether to describe Russian atrocities in Ukraine as genocide. Now we are all becoming familiar with those invaders being described as terrorists – a term previously reserved for extremists, revolutionaries or liberators depending on your attitude towards incumbent authorities, or their opponents, or any of the ‘others’ imagined for the purpose of blame avoidance.

Only a small linguistic step is needed to reclassify free-market fundamentalists as engaged in global terrorism. But then many would find the invented term ‘toryism’ in that implied context as shockingly offensive – not least because so many of us are complicit in the evolution of unmoderated capitalist systems that are now wrecking our planet. Avoidance of offence is impossible, especially when discussing belief systems like economics.

At the G7 meeting in Bavaria, the push for massive investment in the global south was framed as a ‘catch-up’ response to China’s ‘Belt & Road’ project but without the overtones of autocratic control. What was not said is that far more could be achieved by massive debt relief plus investment (reparations) to tackling climate change largely caused by powerful ‘consumerist’ economies. But ‘debt relief’ might raise hackles as much as moves to take the impacts of spiralling fossil fuel costs as a signal to drastically reduce demand and seek natural alternatives.

To all who shudder at pulse-rate-raising thoughts of the next two years, I can say with confidence that at some points you will be shocked and deeply offended – because truths are often very difficult to face.

The consequences of not levelling up, of leading us into Brexit, of restricting your rights to protest, of trafficking asylum seekers to distant lands, of privatising healthcare, of playing fast and loose with rules, or not introducing a proportional voting system, will be debated over and again. All of which will, for some, be deeply offensive and for others, long overdue.

As Greta said last week at Glastonbury, “It has not only become acceptable for leaders to lie – it’s almost what we expect them to do.”

She said it was time for society to start “creating hope” rather than waiting for it to arrive:

“Hope is not something that is given to you. It is something you have to earn, to create. It cannot be gained passively from standing by passively and waiting for someone else to do something. It is taking action. It is stepping outside your comfort zone. And if a bunch of school kids were able to get millions of people on the streets and start changing their lives, just imagine what we could all do together if we try.”

The message from our by-election successes is that actions speak – and speak loud and clear.

* David Brunnen is media liaison officer for Fareham Liberal Democrats. He writes on Municipal Autonomy, Intelligent Communities, Sustainability & Digital Challenges.

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14 Comments

  • Steve Trevethan 30th Jun '22 - 11:52am

    Thank you for an excellent and timely article!
    Might I suggest the words/phrases “Fascism” and “Organised Timidity”?

  • Brad Barrows 30th Jun '22 - 5:08pm

    I have to say that the deliberate use of exaggerated language for political effect is not healthy. For example, Russia hitting a shopping complex nestled between an important railway line and military warehouses is not a ‘war crime’ unless the shopping complex was, itself, the target – in the real world, this is just called ‘war’. It is also not helpful to suggest that Russia is committing genocide when we know from nazi Germany, Rwanda and Yugoslavia what genocide looks like. On this subject, was the USA accused of genocide when it killed so many Vietnamese in the 1970’s that average life expectancy in the country was reduced to the mid 30s? Strange that, don’t you think? Meanwhile, it appears that a country that restricts the use of the Russian language, bans pro-Russian political parties and allows nazi supporting militia groups like Azov to be merged into the regular military and refuses to implement the Minsk Agreements, cannot be criticised for anything as they are the victim.

  • John Roffey 30th Jun '22 - 6:13pm

    I thought this short video from the Dalai Lama provided much needed hope on Climate Change:

  • John Roffey 30th Jun '22 - 6:44pm

    Since this article is about plain speaking – I came across this ‘most liked’ post in the comments section of an article by Nigel Farage in the Telegraph:

    “I agree with Mr Farage (a rare occurrence)
    In 2019 it took:
    864,743 to elect one Green MP
    642,303 votes for zero Brexit Party MPs
    334,122 to elect each Liberal Democrat
    50,817 to elect each Labour MP
    38,300 votes to elect each Conservative MP
    38,316 to elect each Plaid Cymru MP
    25,882 to elect each SNP MP”

    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2022/06/29/new-electoral-system-would-save-britain-socialist-decline/

    This information may have been posted previously – but I haven’t been following debates on LDV recently – because they seem to mean so little without the ‘like’ facility available in the Telegraph.

    As can be seen – the Party will need to devise an extremely subtle plan if it is to play a meaningful role in UK politics in the future.

  • Ok, let’s call it like it is, without arguing semantics.
    If the strike on the shopping mall wasn’t deliberate, the Russians are either lousy shots or totally indiscriminate as to where their missiles land.
    Their response was to spread a lot of lies and misinformation about it afterwards. Eg ‘Russia’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanskiy, said the attack was a “Ukrainian provocation.” Others wrongly claimed the mall was shut.
    Can this be called a war crime? Well, the list of allegations had topped 15,000 a month ago, so it will take a while for the ICC to adjudicate.
    Meanwhile, 18 or so people are dead (along with the injuries, the terror of it all), but hey, I’m sure the survivors are shrugging that off as ‘just war’…
    Oh and, Brad, you trotted out that line about the Minsk Agreements previously, and were corrected on it, I seem to recall.

  • 2. No one (bar Russia and apologists) criticises Ukraine, or drags up past bad actions because that’s like a defence lawyer trying to mitigate a vicious assault by blaming the victim.
    Russia invaded Ukraine with the intention of killing its elected president, and installing a puppet regime, to turn it into another Belarus. Ukrainians refused to oblige. 128 days later, Russia has reduced villages and towns to rubble, forced millions to flee their homes, and through its actions triggered the risk of global famine. They have used less-than veiled threats about nukes to try to get Europe to leave them to it. And because we didn’t, our economies are suffering harder than they would be if Russia hadn’t started all this.
    Is that the ‘plain speaking’ you had in mind?!

  • Chris Moore 1st Jul '22 - 9:29am

    Brad, I’m dismayed that you say the attack on the shopping centre was “war”.

    There is no “war” in Ukraine. There is a special military operation to exterminate Nazis.

    How right you are to point out that Ukraine is not a modern European democracy, unlike Russia where there are no Nazis and all minority and politcal rights are respected.

  • Brad Barrows 1st Jul '22 - 10:28am

    @Chris Moore
    You are perfectly correct that Russia is very far from being a paragon of democracy and political rights…but that does not automatically mean that Ukraine is.

    Yes, Russian disinformation is everywhere. We all know it. This does not mean that everything we are being fed by western governments and media is automatically true and completely accurate. I will never forget the lies told by western governments to justify the illegal war against Iraq – since then I now assume that any party involved in a conflict is likely to lie for its own advantage. I suspect that is equally true today when we try to identify the actual truth out of all the ‘information’ being fed to us.

  • Who could forget the ‘Dodgy Dossier’, the WMD and the rest of the intense US and UK generated propaganda that got us into the disastrous War on Iraq? It was thoroughly illegal, ultimately cost (IIRC) 900,000 Iraqi lives, and was so incompetently conducted by ‘The West’ that ISIS arose from the mess to cause yet more trouble in the region and beyond. One small saving grace was that Charles Kennedy, then Party leader, saw through the deception to the Lib Dems’ great advantage.

    Fortunately, with a Prime Minister of the unimpeachable probity and integrity of Boris Johnson (!!!) nothing like that could possibly happen again.

    But wait! The BBC and the print media oligarchs mainly tell of Russian atrocities with no context provided and no fact-checking. That’s propaganda, not news.

    Contrast that with the more nuanced, informed, and balanced background provided by Colonel Jacques Baud, a Swiss intelligence specialist on Eastern Europe and former Policy Chief for UN Peace Operations.

    https://www.thepostil.com/the-military-situation-in-the-ukraine/

    (Incidentally, it’s worth searching ‘The Postil’ for other contributions by Baud.)

    Truth is the first casualty of war, but we should never fall into the trap of thinking that only applies to the other side – especially when our side has such prodigiously bad form.

  • ‘This does not mean that everything we are being fed by western governments and media is automatically true and completely accurate.’
    I, for one, never said it was. And I spoke out publicly against the war in Iraq before it started, because it was plain to anyone who looked properly that Bush and Blair wanted a war and just needed an excuse.
    As for the ‘nuanced and informed’ blog – that kind of boils down to ‘we should believe this expert rather than that expert’. Pick the one whose account chimes with what you want to believe? I’m not sure anyone’s atrocities need ‘context,’ by the way.
    In the end, regardless of how it started, was Russia provoked, whether Ukraine is squeaky clean or not, whether Russia intended to hit a particular target or not is totally missing the point:
    Nothing justifies the invasion of a sovereign country or the destruction and casualties inflicted on it.
    And all the ‘whataboutery’ of terrible things the US and others have done in the past cannot and doesn’t not excuse what we have seen over the past few months.

  • Just to correct Gordon, on a point of accuracy: the BBC does provide fact-checking. Eg:
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/61967480

  • John Roffey 30th Jun ’22 – 6:13pm:
    I thought this short video from the Dalai Lama provided much needed hope on Climate Change:

    His prayers do seem to be having an effect. It is now over six years since the planet was warming and the World’s average temperature has cooled down to only 0.1˚C over the 1979 to 2000 base…

    Global Temperature:
    https://temperature.global/#one

    Climate Reanalyzer:
    https://climatereanalyzer.org/wx/DailySummary/#t2anom

  • Peter John Hirst 4th Jul '22 - 4:19pm

    The line between clarity and intentional ambiguity is fine at least for those who understand both. Sometimes clarity is key and at others some confusion helps achieve political objectives. Knowing when someone is obfuscating is useful even if annoying.

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