Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Councillor Ivan Bell is the Independent Local Councillor and prospective Independent parliamentary candidate for the High Peak. He hopes, as I understand it, to "break the mould" in local politics and offer High Peak voters something different and perhaps more meaningful to put their cross against than the rather remote and weary traditional options of Liberal Democrat, Labour, or Conservative.
Now nearly every time I read a statement in the press made by him for some reason the word “demagogue” springs to mind. So I decided to look to look it up and found the following definition: “leader of the populace; political agitator appealing to desires or prejudices of the mob” (The Concise Oxford Dictionary). Bearing mind Cllr Ivan’s favoured headgear I was led to ask “Does the cap fit?”
Cllr Ivan was recently quoted in the Chronicle with regard to the Glossopdale Housing Moratorium as wanting :-“Local houses for local people built by local people”. The article also said “Cllr Ivan Bell… supported local people being allowed to build small numbers of houses on their own land.”
The statements of the demagogue put under scrutiny usually prompt the question "what does an apparently significant populist statement mean in real terms", if anything? Does Cllr Ivan mean that he wants people to build freely or on top of their existing dwellings, or in their back gardens, without hindrance or interference from development control and irrespective of consideration of their neighbours? Or does he mean any large developer who has bought up agricultural land at a knock down price should be free to develop it, on the proviso that he is of “local origin”? Again it is possible, but we cannot be sure.
Does his emphasis on local extend to “local materials” manufactured by “local manufacturers”, and even to running on “local energy” or does he wish draw a line on his “local” concept at that stage and if so, why? I am afraid I suspect the only real content of the quoted statement is that the speaker wants to appeal through simplistic utterance to the self-interest of the man in the street.
This leads me on to the problem with so called “plain speaking”, which is another “hobby horse” that Cllr Ivan has championed in the local press. The problem is that this principle of “plain speaking” or “clear English” might seem appealing when forwarded against the mealy-mouthed “bureau speak” of the modern world, but it can lead to the equal pitfall of clarity achieved at the expense of meaning.
Unfortunately, much as we might wish otherwise it is true that many issues in today’s world are complex, but I think we can draw some hope and say that whilst not as simple as envisaged by the demagogue and/or the childlike desires of our hearts, they need not be as ridiculously complex and intangible as the mealy-mouthed utterances of self-promoting officialdom would suggest.
However I would stress that to flee from this obfuscation into the arms of simplistic utterance, and appealing to simple self-interest is also a mistake. Politicians who spoonfeed the frustrated populace with what they want to hear irrespective of considered content are not in my view to be trusted, and perhaps need to be treated with something like contempt. If they have opinions, let them be well and fully thought out, and then clearly articulated. Just because Town Hall cannot speak clearly that does not mean that this is an impossible goal. It simply requires clear analysis of an issue, a draft statement or two, followed by a publishing a considered point of view.
We favour such an approach over either the “obfuscation” of officialdom or the “plain speaking” rhetoric of the demagogue.
As a footnote I would like to add that I have found Cllr Ivan when speaking publicly to be far more plausible and to live up rather better to the clear speaking principles that he avows. I do think however that if he is to stand as a convincing and refreshing alternative to the traditional parties of spin in the next General Election he has a lot to learn about policy making and its proper expression in the media.
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