The Ranting Kraut

19.3.2006 – 27.9.2010

If Cameron offers you Nuspeak …

Posted by rantingkraut on August 30, 2006


The Tories are asking their members to vote on a revised version Cameron’s “Built to Last” agenda (pdf document) – his re-statement of the parties Aims and Values. Cameron claims that the party’s principles haven’t changed, in which case there is a lot to explain in the “Built to Last” declaration.

First of all, there is no mentioning in the entire document that the role of the state should be limited by individual rights. There are some passages which vaguely hint in that direction, but there is no firm commitment. Consider two examples:

1. Under point 7, there is a recognition that persuasion is sometimes more useful than force. This is very different from accepting that the areas where the government can legitimately use force are at all limited, it is merely an assertion that the use of force may sometimes not yield the desired results, not that there could be anything morally wrong with it.

2. Under point 6. Cameron demands a new Bill of rights which “balances freedoms with responsibilities”. By the traditional understanding of individual rights, these rights should automatically balanced by the responsibility to respect others’ equal rights as well as the responsibility for ones own actions. If this should be clear, why is responsibility even mentioned as a balancing factor? The answer lies in a rather subtle aspect of grammar. Cameron refers to freedoms, not freedom or liberty. The plural noun may well be indicative of an agenda of arbitrarily selected positive freedoms –as opposed the general negative right to be left alone—and an equally arbitrary set imposed responsibilities. What should be expected then is that the balancing factor of ‘responsibility’ will simply serve as a catch-all criterion to justify further erosions of individual liberty.

A second, and possibly more important, reason to reject “Built to Last” is the language adopted. Cameron has taken to the kind of imprecise waffle which sounds pleasant to the widest possible audience while implying a minimum of commitments. There are some concrete promises –such as the one for abolishing ID cards if they are introduced—but by and large the important message is in what is not said.

Point 2 contains a reference to “enabling the voluntary sector to create a national programme for young people to support their personal development and promote a sense of social responsibility …”. This sounds harmless, but those who listened to Cameron carefully, will have noticed that what he intends is a civilian version of compulsory national service, a kind of UK version of the Reichsarbeitsdienst.

And so it goes on. There is a promise (under point 7) to oppose a “European Constitution that would create a single European superstate.” Would a less ambitious European Constitution be opposed? Would there be a referendum on it?

Where clarifications are made, they are often surprising: Point 8 opens with a bold statement in favour of meritocracy only to specify, in the small print, that today meritocracy means we need ethnic and gender quotas.

So here is the main reason to reject this document: by accepting “Built to Last” the conservatives would accept the kind of dishonest, spin driven politics introduced by Blair’s New Labour. One thing a democracy needs is parties which openly say what they stand for. The one thing we can all do without is yet more deceptive rhetoric. So, if someone offers you Nuspeak, just say no!


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