I said I’d write about whatever bugged me, So here’s a long rant about bad political phrasing. It’s a constant bother of mine that with great literature to reach for, our leaders always seem to grasp for awkward neologisms.
It’s only day one and we’ve already had our first piece of crushingly bad political rhetoric: David Cameron’s claim to be standing in this election for the `Great Ignored’
As Sunder Katwala and others have pointed out, the template for “the great ignored” seems to be Richard Nixon’s “Silent majority” speech. Now, to be fair to tricky Dick, that wasn’t a campaign speech. It was a speech about Vietnam, given a year after his election to shore up support for his policy in Vietnam.
In comparison to that phrase, there are two problems with Cameron’s rhetorical use of the “Great Ignored”.
The first is obvious. It doesn’t make sense. If you’re talking about them, they’re not ignored, and what’s so great about being ignored anyway? Is the fact being ignored really the only quality that links those that David Cameron wants to support him? A silent majority has meaning. The verdict of quiet, decent, British families makes sense. The ‘Great Ignored’ doesn’t.
If you want to evoke the neglect of a whole nation, why not be literary and borrow from Chesterton’s “Secret People” and appeal to the people of England, too long smiled at, paid service to but passed over, who now, at last, have the chance to speak?
The Great Ignored? It doesn’t sound like a club anyone would want to be a member of.
The other problem with “the Great Ignored”, is that by definition, it includes neither the speaker or the audience. If you appeal to the silent majority, you are subtly identifying the audience with yourself. Talk about the great ignored, and you begin to sound like you’re praising the waiters at a posh banquet. Indeed, if you’re not careful it begins to sound like you’re the one who’s been ignoring them.
This is David Cameron defining the Great ignored: “They start our businesses, operate our factories, teach our children, clean our streets, grow our food, keep us safe. They work hard, pay their taxes, obey the law”.
Who is the “us” in that paragraph? Who is the “They”?
So I don’t think the great ignored will last long in this election campaign.
Indeed, if i were Peter Mandelson, I’d be riffling through my Kipling to find better phrases to link electorate and leaders. Here’s a place to start. A way to talk about the natural modesty and awkwardness in the face of praise of the English. (Which not co-incidentally is about the difference between real achievement and self promotion and gloss).
“‘So long as Severn runs to West
Or Humber to the East,
That they who bore themselves the best
Shall count themselves the least.
…they shall choose the lesser word
To cloke the greater deed.
‘After the quarry and the kill-
The fair fight and the fame-
With an ill face and an ill grace
Shall they rehearse the same.
‘Greater the deed, greater the need
Lightly to laugh it away,”