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Ripping the wrapping off pollie waffle

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How can you tell when a politician’s lying? Their lips move. Too harsh? Not according to UK-based website Polifiller, whose conclusion seems to be that if you want a straight answer from a pollie, don’t bother asking them a question. 

Polifiller is maintained by publicist Hamish Thompson, who describes it as “the automated political jargon removal tool”. Recently the eight-year-old website released its list of the worst political jargon of 2020 as submitted by editors, correspondents and members of the public around the world.

“Mostly a Q&A with a politician is more of a Q&‘Eh?’,” Hamish says. “There are plenty of exceptional politicians, but there are also many who tend to promise their way in and disappoint their way out. The 2020 Polifiller list is a bingo card for the audience.”

And so eyes down as we present the 2020 Polifiller Hall of Shame: 

1. “That’s a great question”

Judge’s comments: “Somewhere in the world in the last six months, a media trainer taught a politician to start an answer with this line. Since then, it has spread like a global contagion. It is used in response to a tough question, the answering of which would torpedo the politician’s career.  It flatters the asker – or did, before it got annoying – so you buy a bit of goodwill. It also creates a few valuable seconds of thinking time.  And beautifully, it is also an answer of sorts, which gives the politician the opportunity to go off and answer something completely different.”

2. “We’ll have more to say about that”

Judge’s comments: “This one is a standard get-out for ‘I have absolutely no idea’.  It has been a fixture at press briefings this year. It’s perfect, because it implies that they’re already on it and that they’re just about to announce something that deals with it.  Off camera, special advisers are already Googling how to fix the problem.”

3. “Ordinary citizens”

Judge’s comments: “Unusually tone-deaf. I don’t believe there are that many citizens that like the idea of being described as ‘ordinary’.”

4. “Let me be clear/Let me be crystal-clear/Let me make this absolutely clear/Let me be absolutely open and honest”

Judge’s comments: “This is a crystal-clear sign that they are about to be very unclear.”

5. “I make no apologies for . . .”

Judge’s comments: “This is the world’s highest horse. It’s usually the prefix to something innocuous that they’re trying to make some political capital out of. For instance, ‘I make no apologies for campaigning for teeth being cleaned twice a day’.”

6. “Hardworking families”

Judge’s comments: “This is one of those ‘down with the kids’ lines that rarely goes down as well as the politician thinks it will. It’s a bit like hearing your grandparents talking about Snapchat or TikTok. It’s an attempt to get onside with your constituents. See also ‘The great British people’, ‘Aussie battler’, ‘doing it tough’, ‘I make model buses’ etc.”

7. “Shoulder to shoulder”

Judge’s comments: “This is political code for ‘after you’.”

8. “Unprecedented times”

Judge’s comments: “This is rapidly becoming an excuse, hotly pursued by requests for an answer.”

9. “I was talking to someone in my constituency/electorate this week”

Judge’s comments: “An old favourite, though it is slightly past its use-by date. It usually elicits a pantomime ‘Oh no you weren’t!’ from the audience.”

10. “Ramp up/Double down/Flatten the curve/Drive down/Level up”

Judge’s comments: “Political Pilates for the pandemic.”

11. “We’re all in this together”

Judge’s comments: “Superficially reassuring, but not true. As the author Damian Barr pointed out recently, we’re all in the same storm, but we’re not in the same boat. Some of us have dinghies, some of us have super yachts.”

12. “Now is not the time/I’m not going to give a running commentary”

Judge’s comments: “Slightly biblical variations on ‘There’s no way I’m going to answer that’.”

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