Gordon Brown’s speech to his flock at the Labour Party Conference today reminded me of the usefulness of the Hoggart Test, the yardstick often applied by Simon Hoggart to platitudinous rhetoric: you can tell whether something is worth saying by examining whether the opposite is absurd.
The following examples from GB’s speech are not taken out of context; they were soundbites that were punctuated with rounds of applause. Could any elected politician get away with the opposite of these statements, as suggested in italics?
“I know the difference between right and wrong.”
I have no sense of morality.
“On the side of hard-working families is the only place I’ve wanted to be.”
Someone has to stand up for slovenly singletons.
“In all times we will put people first.”
Flamingos first, then people.
“We will be the party of law and order.”
We aim to build a society that bears a closer resemblance to the Wild West frontier.
“We will be the party of the family.”
We wish to tear apart basic social units*.
Most long political speeches fail the Hoggart test at some point, and it should be noted that GB’s speech was by no means devoid of significant announcements, but the question still stands: why do we tolerate this kind of bunk from our leaders? It’s a conference speech, not an episode of The West Wing. The people in the auditorium may have been flag-saluting automotons (I know from personal experience that delegates at these events are not independent thinkers) but viewers outside the auditorium aren’t.
*Even Margaret Thatcher, in her famous claim that “there is no such thing as society”, acknowledged the role of families.