The New Political Lexicon

Simon Johnson, Chief Executive, Jewish Leadership Council

This article first appeared in the Jewish Telegraph on 03/05/19

 

When academics and political students come to study the events of 2016-2019, they will find it a source of fascinating political precedent.

But they will also find that a number of phrases have entered the political lexicon, some of which will be long lasting, and some of which will become historical curiosities.

So, I thought I would look at some of the phrases that have entered the political language over the last three years. I think these are expressions, which will live long in the memory. I try to give a description and an origin of each of these phrases.

The phrases are set out in alphabetical order.

 

All forms of racism:                  

Something that a person on the Left has to oppose in addition to antisemitism. Originally intended as a way of playing down antisemitism as being just one thing that the Leader of the Labour Party fights against, it lived briefly in Labour Party press office statements at the start of the antisemitism crisis, until even they realised that it did not play well for them.

 

A militant opponent of racism:  

This is a direct quote from Jeremy Corbyn’s letter to the community in March 2018. It is one that is thrown back against Jeremy Corbyn each time that Labour has failed to tackle antisemitism. Often wrongly quoted, it is a perfect example of an auto-antonym, which is a phrase which has two contradictory meanings.

 

Backstop:                                

Originally, a position in the game of Rounders, this word has been hijacked to describe some mechanism to avoid a hard border between Northern and the Republic of Ireland. It will be chiefly remembered for the fact that nobody at all can understand or describe it.

 

Brexit Means Brexit:                 

Rarely can a political slogan have turned out to be so meaningless. In an attempt to simplify a complex situation, Theresa May’s phrase has become an empty phrase. Quite clearly Brexit might mean any number of things, and there are scores of versions of what Brexit might mean. It also became possible that Brexit might mean No Brexit.

 

Coalition of Chaos:                  

Intended as a campaign insult by the Conservatives to describe any combination of political parties in a Labour Minority Government, it has since become deeply ironic given the Government’s reliance on the DUP and how frequently the Government has been defeated. Having been used so often in election campaigns, I suspect it has now been consigned to history.

 

Enough is Enough:                         

A phrase which has been adopted first by the anti-gun lobby in the US and then by the Jewish community to refer to anti-Jewish racism in the Labour party. It can be used as a campaign slogan for anything that has been going on for too long. It signifies exasperation and the “last throw of the dice”. The Jewish claim to it is strongest, due to the fact that it is a neat translation of “Dayeinu”.

 

Indicative Vote:                        

A phrase from the House of Commons that has been gleefully seized upon by many Chairs of large meetings when they want to take a vote but not to be bound by the outcome! It means that you can have a long debate, take a vote and then completely ignore the result. This will become a genuine option and Chairs of meetings in all sorts of contexts will be offering it when they want to present a fig leaf of democracy and then get on and do whatever they wanted to do in the first place.

 

Meaningful Vote:                     

A phrase introduced by PM Theresa May to persuade Parliament that their views on her proposed Brexit deal would be taken seriously by the Government. Presumably, she wanted it not to be confused with an “Indicative Vote” (See above).  It does raise the question of what might be a “Meaningless vote”. It is to be assumed that, in creating the phrase, she did not mean to suggest that all other votes in Parliament were not meaningful. That would reveal her to have a very dim view of Parliamentary democracy.

 

Present but not involved:          

A perfect excuse available to anybody who finds themselves photographed somewhere inconvenient and wants to explain that they really had no idea or no support for what they had been caught red handed doing. The phrase was first used by Jeremy Corbyn in his fourth attempt to explain why he was pictured holding a wreath at the memorial to one of the Munich Olympic terrorists. His sophistry was trotted out by the Labour Party ever afterwards. Sadly, the excuse has been rather undermined by recent revelations that his trip there was funded by a group which is a front for Hamas in Europe and that he deliberately manipulated the costs so that he would not have to declare the trip. But the phrase has nonetheless stood the test of time.

 

Racist Bone in His Body:               

In that “He does not have a racist bone in his body”. A phrase used to excuse anyone who campaigns against racism from an accusation of antisemitism. It uses the metaphor of bones having emotions. It has become the defence of many on the left accused of racism. “I am a lifelong campaigner against racism/I am myself a victim of racism, and therefore I can not be guilty of racism”. Its’ use is intended to bring a conversation to an end.

 

Racist Endeavour:                          

One of the Examples in the IHRA definition, to describe how, depending on the context, a description of Israel might be held to be antisemitic. It was then seized upon by left- wing activists and pro-Corbyn supporters as an actual description of Israel as they sought to defend the Labour Party’s failure to adopt the IHRA definition.

 

0.1%                                        

Zero point One Per cent.  A number sufficiently small that nobody needs to worry about it. Used by the Labour Press Office to describe the percentage of Party members under investigation for antisemitism. In other words, “move along, nothing to see here, it’s so small as to be insignificant”. Recent revelations in the Sunday Times have proved that the number is actually far higher.