Top 5 platitudes from Gordon Brown’s speech

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.

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5 Responses to “Top 5 platitudes from Gordon Brown’s speech”

  1. Anthony Zacharzewski Says:

    Logic and political rhetoric aren’t good bedfellows, I guess. There’s a sense in which GB (or insert any politician) needs to say things that show people he’s the kind of person they want in charge, rather than a person with the kind of policies they want implemented.

    Put another way, the platitudes are important for the words he expresses enthusiasm for (families … people … law and order … right and wrong) rather than the policies or beliefs that might logically flow from them.

  2. pouletnoir Says:

    This is true, but all of that goes without saying for an elected politician. You can’t be a lawmaker without law or a sense of morality and you can’t be elected without people, almost all of whom are part of a family. (The orphan vote, evidently, counts for little in Britain.) It’s a bit of a bogus comparison because firemen don’t have to stand for election, but if they did would you expect them to say that they know the difference between a burning building and a safe one, that they are on the side of hoses and sirens, or that their watchwords are water and fire-retardant foam?

  3. rivergirlie Says:

    i think you should be put in charge of political speechifying from now on

  4. Michael S Says:

    Do you remember the cancer charity advert that’s been on telly recently which ends with the tearful bride turning to the camera and saying “I wish my mum was here to see this”?

    Couldn’t help but think that Gordon Brown’s line about cancer survivor numbers (“that’s not just a number – that’s the dad who lives to walk his daughter up the aisle”) was less an emotional, personal case study and more a sign that he’s had time to watch a lot of daytime TV recently. But that may just me being cynical.

  5. disgruntled Says:

    Almost all human speech is little more than throat clearing and platitudes. I’m fairly sure that about 90% of what I say is just flapping my lips to stop my brain seizing up – and the rest of it’s functional speech like ‘pass the sugar please’

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