Monday, November 1, 2010

Debasement of language, or debasement of values?

Tom Harris on the debasement of political rhetoric through the use of "silly, over-the-top language" (a subject he is admittedly a leading expert on following his eccentric series of black-is-white "insights" on the issue of electoral reform) -

"I answered by referring to a local controversy here in Glasgow – the removal, in the early hours of the morning, of illegal immigrants whose applications for asylum have been refused and who have subsequently ignored official instructions to leave the UK. Those opposing such families' forcible removal regularly refer to 'Gestapo' style operations, trying to equate officers of Strathclyde Police with Hitler's secret police.

Such language is (intentionally) offensive not only to police officers (upon whose services the people who use such terms would not, presumably, hesitate to call in other circumstances; what kind of person would dial 999 believing the Gestapo were going to turn up?) but also to the families of survivors of Nazi Germany: you have to wonder what all the fuss was about if all German Jews had to deal with were the 1930s equivalent of Strathlcyde Police officers..."

First point - however much Tom tries to put a happy, smiling 'Strathclyde' face on it, what those failed asylum seekers are actually faced with is a regime drawn up and enforced by the Home Office in London, and which successive Scottish governments have made clear conflicts with this nation's values. Secondly, while it's perfectly reasonable to point out the many ways in which the Gestapo analogy might seem over-the-top, it's equally reasonable to point out the ways in which it is somewhat apt. If the government Tom was part of had put an end to the detention of children, for instance, they'd have given people one less reason for seeing uncomfortable parallels with totalitarian regimes.


  1. I often wonder if Tom Harris didn't join Labour by mistake. He is so detatched from reality at times (well, aren't they all?). Perhaps though, he shouldn't wrote so scathingly about others without knowing a bit more about how they live.

    He writes, for example, about:

    "services the people who use such terms would not, presumably, hesitate to call in other circumstances"

    referring, doubtless, to the fact that were HE in need of the services of the police, he wouldn't hesitate to call on them. For many people on the wrong side of the railtrack the idea of calling the police and getting any kind of service from them is laughable.

    Tom probably doesn't meet people who live like that. I do. "Did you call the police?" I (used to)ask, on hearing the latest horrific night spent by a client in one of the sink estates. "Ha ha ha ha ha ha", they reply.

    Doubtless when Tom calles them they are all over him "Sirring" and bowing and scraping.

    MPs need to get out there and live in the world that so many of their constituents live in. Not just visit it and shake their heads and say "something must be done" like they were the prince of Wales and it was 1937.

    You'd expect the Eton boys (not to mention Fettes boys) to be a little detatched from that sort of life; but not a Glasgow Labour MP.

  2. PS... I hope you never do a 'forensic' on one of my blog posts.... You're so good at them!

  3. I know what you mean about the police, Tris - I've had a couple of very good experiences with them (one just a few weeks ago in Cumbria) but I've had a not-so-good one as well, and that was when I was reporting the crime. I'm sure you're right that people from 'the wrong side of the tracks' are far more likely to end up being treated like dirt.