Orwellian comparisons are always popular in political debate, but whilst surveillance cameras, biometric ID cards and politically correct "thought-crime" laws are certainly of some concern, it is in the field of language that Winston Smith would find the Britain of 2007 most recognisable. Newspeak is undoubtedly the policy area of IngSoc that is most developed.
The excellent Plain English Campaign has for years been emphasising the importance of clear use of language. It's perfectly simple - explaining things clearly is the best way to get ideas across. Confusing jargon and mangled English lead to misunderstandings, which waste money and make services inaccessible. As a tactic for deceit and obscuring the truth, it undermines accountability and restricts public scrutiny of politicians and the public sector.
My colleague Mike Denham reported recently on an unmanned police station which, residents have been told, will be closed unless they pretend it is manned and open:
Cricklade residents (aka the customers) are angry because their local police station is closed- ie if you go there you find nobody manning the front desk, and even if you shout, nobody comes. But rather than putting it right, North Wiltshire's top cop advises them to pretend the station's functioning properly as it is. Otherwise, he says, it will be perceived the residents perceive it's closed, and it will be closed. Even though in real world terms, it's closed already.
Confusing, isn't it?
Sadly, this example is far from unique. The case of Cricklade police station is apparently one of a police force talking nonsense in order to wriggle off the hook and obscure the issue. Plenty of other agencies similarly use the practice for deceit, whilst others just don't seem to engage their brain before opening their mouth or tapping the keyboard.
For example, a TPA researcher has just received another classic gobbet of gibberish, this time by email from Welwyn Hatfield Council, whose Customer Services Advisor's email sign-off describes the Council as providing
access to your services and information 24 hours day, 7 days a week.
It then goes on to explain that
The Contact Centre and Offices are open
Monday to Thursday from 8.45am to 5.15pm
and Fridays 8.45am to 4.45pm
That's right - in Welwyn, "24 hours a day, 7 days a week" actually means "eight and a half or sometimes eight hours a day, five days a week". That might well be a perfectly adequate service for people, but why is it necessary to describe it as something it simply isn't?
The EU is another arena in which Newspeak reigns supreme. Famously, after the French voted "Non" to the EU Constitution, Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg's Prime Minister who was EU President at the time, announced
"The French and Dutch did not really vote 'No' to the European constitution"
Except of course that they, erm, did. Immediately after the referenda went the "wrong" way, the EU establishment set about preparing the ground for forcing the constitution on the people irrespective of their wishes. It is testament to the power of language that their first step was a barefaced attempt to redefine the result as one that was actually favourable to the Constitution.
This deceit not only wastes money and confuses people, it conceals a multitude of sins. By not only denying failures but actually redefining them as successes, disgraceful disasters are allowed to continue, and popular opinion is ignored or manipulated.
The EU Constitution rumbles on despite its outright rejection at the ballot box by two founder nations of the EU, Cricklade's residents have to pretend to talk to police officers who aren't there whilst continuing to live without adequate police cover, children and pensioners live in fear of "care" as a word which is actually synonymous with "abuse", Welwyn residents get 24/7 information from a 8.5/5 service and confusion reigns supreme. War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength.
The mangling of the English language hobbles our democracy, obscures scrutiny, wastes money and cheats the needy of access to services. We cannot win purely by getting the sums right and the numbers to add up, we will also have to win a cultural victory by demanding clarity from the people who spend our money and run our government.