A few days ago in the Telegraph, journalist Simon Heffer expressed the hope that someone would, "write a book on the language of the Third Way, outlining the abuse of words - and with it the abuse of truth - that this administration has either implemented or condoned."
A while before, during a meeting at the company where I work, I heard someone from personnel remark that we were facing "issues around our diversity target implementation plan". It struck me that if this curious Lefty-inspired patois can be used - with a straight face - in a large modern business then the trenches in the language sector of the 'culture wars' must be all but overrun.
And there is evidence to be found in official communications not only of the changed language but also the altered priorities it attempts to mask. You can find some particularly rich hunting grounds among the well-stocked leaflet displays of Metropolitan Police stations. No one yet has formally announced that the Met doesn’t 'do' ordinary crime, but each flyer makes it clear that if you are one of the large range of very modern sounding 'victim' types, then you are the priority for modern policing. See here for more of what's on offer.
Equally, almost anything from central Government or the 'education establishment' contain examples in abundance. We discover, to take an example at random, in the recent Home Office 'Respect Action Plan' that, "Key departments will work together to develop a cross-Government strategy to drive an improved service response to problem households. These departments, and their local service partners, have important roles to play in ensuring that mainstream adult and children’s services respond more quickly and effectively to these families and address gaps in provision." This means something like, "we must sound like we are doing things - but not too much because they probably vote for us".
Even the military have taken to expressions with rather diffuse meaning. 'Network-centric, effects-based warfare', for example, apparently means they put lap-tops in their tanks. It also probably also means that the MoD think we can be persuaded that, this way, we need less of them.
So why are our rulers and administrators resorting to this verbal equivalent of an artillery smoke barrage? The answer can be separated into the influences and motives that permeate New Labour.
The influences are largely consultants, academia and the 'rights industry'. Consultants infest modern government departments and quangos in large numbers and they use the same opaque, almost self-parodic jargon that they inflict on us in the private sector. Working for a quango a few years ago, I noticed that, perhaps due to a lack of confidence, state employees often tried to mimic 'consultantese', despite their understandably hesitant grasp of its original meaning.
There is also little doubt that academia has influenced - via the cod-philosophy of 'post-modernism' – the thought habits of many of the graduates exposed to this nonsense at university. Thus New Labour pioneered the view that the electorate can be persuaded by 'narratives' rather than, say, doing anything. Disappointingly, they so far seem to have been proved right.
Finally, there is the language of race and rights activists, part of the rainbow coalition of charities, pressure groups and human-rights lawyers. Between them, these contributors have built a whole new linguistic system to communicate with each other - and us.
As for the motive, well, if you want to hide some things and advance others while relatively undetected, then what better way to do it than by using language that has slipped the moorings of any tangible meaning. And every day is now 'a good day to bury bad news'.
If we want to limit the spread of this grating, euphemistic and deeply political language in our national life, the first thing to do is recognise it for what it is. So, in the list below, I've brought together some of my favourites - a compilation of 'key learnings' if you will - and tried to describe their usage and meaning as I've encountered them. Welcome to the 'Lefty lexicon'.
Agenda - describes any collection of policies: 'equality agenda' for instance. Invariably needs to be ‘taken forward’.
Aggressive outreach - the process of actively soliciting trade for social workers. Generally employed when 'customers' fail to show required enthusiasm for services on offer.
Beacon of excellence - archaism: any organ of state that achieved - or 'delivered' - what it was supposed to.
Best practice - normally 'established' when a Lefty wants to saddle a process with more complexity. Replaces 'working it out yourself'.