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Mind your language

Greenhalghstephen Hammersmith and Fulham Council leader Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh says its not enough to banish banal left wing jargon. We need to come up with some clear phrases that show what Conservatives in Town Hall seek to achieve.

Earlier this year Eric Pickles asked me to formulate a bold Conservative blueprint for local government. We have already published a Localis pamphlet that defines a fundamentally Conservative approach and floats some innovative policy ideas. However, we have forgotten that Conservatism at its core is a movement dedicated to principles rather than a specific agenda. That is what makes language so important.

We need to define the language used in local government in clear terms. We have to start with our values and principles at its heart as we strive to deliver freedom, security and opportunity for our residents. Ronald Reagan talked about the “war for freedom” but who are we fighting for? Kit Malthouse AM struck a chord when he said recently that we are “sticking up for the middle”. I think Reagan found more powerful words: “We  represent......that simple soul who goes to work, bucks for a raise, takes out insurance, pays for his kids schooling, contributes to  his church and charity and knows there just ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”. In short Conservatives believe in self reliance and have faith in the individual providing the solution rather than the state.

As Conservatives we are at our best when we speak to people’s hopes and aspirations rather than their fears or anger. Our language needs to be an extension of our profound belief in opportunity and for a state that helps people get on in life and then steps away.. The role of government is to give a hand up rather than a hand out.  At the moment our beliefs centre around using simple words to express these values. These simple words include freedom, self reliance, opportunity, low taxes, security and aspiration. We have a profound belief in competition as a way of delivering efficiency and better public services to people. Our task is to define toxic words that no longer mean what they say on the tin.

Words such as “fairness” which is a Trojan horse for redistribution of wealth or “investment” which just means spending more. Perhaps the most toxic phrase is “affordable housing” by which most people assume this means housing that is affordable rather than social rented or public sector subsidised housing  primarily for people who cannot afford to rent or to buy housing available on the market. We also have to remove hollow words such as "sustainable", "strategy" and "partnership" and we have to reject the buzz words that act as a comfort blanket for sloppy thinking such as "place shaping", "outcomes" and "stakeholder". Our Conservative values have to be articulated in plain English and we have to remember that language helps people understand the journey that we are taking rather than the policies at a given time.  However we have to remember that action always speaks louder than words and language can only ever articulate the hopes and aspirations that we as Conservatives aim to deliver for the people we represent and who put our faith in us.

Politics is the business of persuasion so language is critically important. Politics and government is the art of the possible and our Conservative  language enables us to articulate what we are striving for but may take years to deliver. The magic of language is particularly powerful when it is allied to positive action that makes a difference. Language can be used as a force for the good, such as the time when Churchill persuaded us against our natural instincts that we needed to fight against the monstrous tyranny of National Socialism. Language at its best helps people overcome their fears and prepares them for change. We have to capture our vision and beliefs in distinctly Conservative language now that we are the driving force in local government so that we do not tread water and let others dictate the agenda for our residents.


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