Suffolk Politics and the English Language

I’ve just come back from Suffolk’s latest full council meeting – the centrepiece of which was a debate on the administration’s  Update to the New Strategic Direction ( click here: its the last document on the list).  Many of the Lib Dem and other opposition members, including myself, laid into this  incomprehensible  piece of bureaucratic gobbledegook.

In return some, but not very many, members of the Conservative majority reproached us for using unkind words. (Oh, and for writing nasty blogs which criticised them.)  They suggested, cynically, that we Lib Dems were being cynical and destructive of  the Administration’s  highminded efforts to listen to the residents of Suffolk. “We want to free the people of Suffolk from the chains of excessive bureaucracy, and give them what they truly want”, they claimed.

They might have convinced me if it weren’t for all those emails I’ve been getting these last months from Suffolk people  facing the prospect of being without buses, without bus passes, without explore cards, school crossing patrols, libraries, care provision, respite provision etc etc. All of whom complained that they HADN’T been listened to, and WEREN’T getting what they wanted.

Other Tory councillors – the  numbers of the disaffected raising daily – were ‘layin low and sayin nuffin’. It didn’t stop them voting with their peers, though.

Dante MUST have reserved a circle of hell specially for those who lack the courage of their convictions!

I didn’t bother explaining why the Admin’s take on libraries is wrong, their take on transport is wrong, their take on the explore card is wrong . I have said all this before to much jeering from these highminded listeners to the people of Suffolk. Instead, I concentrated on how they were hiding behind incomprehensibility. I said:

I have endeavoured to read this document,  I have really really tried. And I’m good at reading: I have an MA from Oxford (English Language and Literature). Last year I worked on the great Oxford Historical Thesaurus – which covers all the meanings of all the words that have been used in English over the last thousand years.

I have even managed to read and enjoy the collected works of Walter Scott!

I would suggest that if there is meaning to be taken from a piece of writing I am the very person to take it.  However –

THIS piece of (for want of a better word) writing,  has done what Walter Scott, Beowulf , even John Milton, couldn’t do. It has defeated me utterly.

I can only conclude that the reason no meaning can be extracted from this piece is because there is no meaning to be extracted.

Is this accidental? Is this deliberate? Who can tell? As George Orwell puts it “what looks like an unclear expression of a clear thought might actually be a perfectly clear expression of an unclear thought.”

However, from reading this, one thing does become crystal clear. Either you don’t know what you want to do, or you don’t want to tell us.  Come on,  Cllr Pembroke can you give us your plan in words people can understand, so we identify clearly what action IS being recommended!

Cllr Noble attempted a comeback by trying to explain that the NSD WAS rather a ‘complex’ idea.  (The implication being that maybe it was a little bit too complex for lesser minds to comprehend in all its glory.)

Cllr Noble: complex and unclear are two very different words:

  • Complex implies that something has many separate aspects, which are necessary but difficult to understand;
  • Unclear denotes a muddle!

Complex or unclear? Gentle reader, I invite you to click on the link above, read the ‘Action Recommended’ section on the first page and judge  for yourself.

3 thoughts on “Suffolk Politics and the English Language”

  1. Odd – isn’t it? – just how often the word ‘clear’ is used in this report. I would have thought ‘obfuscation’ to be a truer description.

    May I suggest you forward this to the Plain English Campaign website? They might want to honour it with an award …

    http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/

  2. Flim-flam. Who wrote it? Ms Hill? If so, it would have been more useful to send her on a writing plain English course than on whatever else she did. There’s no real substance to any of this. It’s all based on the notion that the people of Suffolk will be delighted to take over just about everything, public-spirited and time-rich as they are (haha), and it will all somehow come together and save us oodles of cash. No. Sorry. Pure fantasy.

  3. Dear Caroline,

    Ever since I stumbled across your website a few weeks ago, I thought “who is this Caroline Page . . . she speaks MY language?” If only the rest of our local Liberal Democrat councillors could communicate as well as Caroline Page, we would surely be running every council. Yesterday I found out why I find myself frequently and instinctively going to your website as my natural “home” . . . because, I learn, you are a journalist.

    I, too, was a journalist for half of my life — though, once a journalist, always a journalist. So keep up the good work, Caroline. Speaking as a one-time Fleet Street tabloid sub-editor, your hard-hitting style puts you in the vanguard of the Plain English devotees. But, please Caroline, try to resist over-egging your headlines with exclamation marks!

    With that one proviso, your website is brilliant. I only wish this redundant hot-metal “sub” was half as expert in computer technology as you are, Caroline.

    Best wishes,

    David Payne

    m/f

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