Friday, 11 May 2007

Difficult decisions and hard choices

Tony's Blair's announcement of his departure from No. 10 Downing Street has naturally dominated the headlines today. There has been much written about his "legacy". I want to draw attention to one less discussed aspect of that legacy - his deliberate misuse of words.

On many occasions in the last decade Blair has declared himself to be proud of making "difficult" decisions, or "hard" choices. He said this about the abolition of free University tuition in England, for example. I don't think that was a difficult decision at all. Allowing Universities to collect money from students as well as directly from the government (who continue to contribute about 90% of the Universities' budgets by direct grants anyway) wasn't a difficult thing to do. I don't think that the way this decision was reached would have been particularly arduous either.

Let me be clear. Blair's use of the term "difficult" was simply a euphemism for "unpopular". Doing things that are "difficult" or "hard" (especially if you deliberately choose to do them) means that you are courageous, steadfast, and tenacious, admirable characteristics for a leader.

Choosing words that make you sound like a hero when you are doing something you know your voters neither understand nor support is neither hard nor difficult.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Technology we take for granted

I was in central London this morning and I needed to find the nearest branch of a particular bank. So I used my phone. But I didn't make a phone call, instead I opened an Internet browser on my phone, searched for the bank in question, used their "branch locator" feature, entered a partial postcode, and got a map of where to go. Easy.

Invented English: "smokefree"

In order to create publicity material to accompany the implementation of a law making it illegal to smoke in enclosed places, the UK Department of Health (DoH) have invented a new word: "smokefree".

In fact they have an entire campaign going on about "Smokefree England".

I am in despair about this. Not, let me explain, about the legislation. I am all in favour of banning smoking in pubs and restaurants as well as in the workplace. But I am in despair at this new word, and the way the DoH have chosen to use it.

It appears to be an adjective, and to mean "free of smoke". But in their literature and on their web site the DoH have applied this adjective so widely as to make it meaningless. For a start, will the entire country of England be free of smoke of all kinds and in all places for 1st July? In fact, it will only be free of tobacco smoke in designated places. So "smokefree England" doesn't make sense.

The literature prepared by the DoH refers to the "smokefree law". Does that mean the legislation itself was free of smoke?

And don't get me started on the new verb the DoH have introduced: "to go smokefree"!

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Release Alan Johnston

I've added a banner to this blog as part of the campaign for Alan Johnston, the BBC journalist kidnapped in Gaza on April 12th 2007. I am just trying to do a little to help the campaign for his release.