Circumlocution. The use of many words where fewer would do, especially in a deliberate attempt to be vague or evasive.
— Oxford English Dictionaries
There’s a old adage about how you can tell when a politician’s lying: when their lips move.
Well, that’s quite a cynical take on politics and those who are involved in politicking, but we often have a premonition that this adage has the ring of truth, don’t we? We’ve listened to and watched enough ministerial statements, panel discussions and live interviews to make that judgement; and we don’t always need their explicit body language to confirm it — whether from tone of voice, stumbles over phrases, shifty looks or too much unasked-for detail, these can all give the lie to many public utterances.
And in the era of fake news we cynics note with increasing frequency the evasions, the contradictory tweets, the prevarications and, above all, the smugness that such high-flying lowlife bestow on us with a complete and utter disdain. A recent interview with the British defence secretary on ITV merely underlined such disdain as the interviewee three times gave bland circumlocutions to a frustrated interviewer. Would that more of these cowardly entities that avoid accountability for their decisions and actions could, along with the interview, be similarly ‘terminated’.
In the absence of sensible, honest and truthful answers, and bearing in mind these kinds of people are usually difficult to remove except at the end of their fixed term, there is a crucial question always to be asked: what’s in it for them?
I’d like to be clear about this: politicians put themselves up for office for a number of reasons. It can be from political conviction, or a desire to serve their constituents and a larger public, or indeed both. What’ll be in it for them is job satisfaction, a sense of duty fulfilled or even a genuine desire to enable voters to improve their lives. It’s hard to be critical about such self-sacrifice and public service if done for selfless reasons.
For many, however, what motivates them is a pursuit of power coupled with raw ambition. These are common human traits, to be sure, though I find it unpleasant to observe such naked impulses in public servants. (To be honest, it’s unpleasant in anyone.) But we see too many examples of these individuals, drunk with power, lording it over their departments, their constituents, maybe even the country, sneering at anyone who questions them or what they see as their god-given right.
Finally, concomitant with power usually comes financial reward. The love of money is the root of all evil, wrote St Paul, and in this he was particularly correct where politicians are concerned. We see this cupidity in those who see high office as a certain gateway to further monetary gain; for however much they may be expected to renounce lucrative rewards when in office — though in secret many are prepared to take bribes, often in kind — they know commercial interests are keen to promise them directorships, speaking engagements and advisory roles once they have left office, inevitably for outrageously huge sums. Some hypocrites are even happy to take substantial pensions from institutions like the European Parliament which they reviled when they were elected members of them.
I cannot say what motivated the defence secretary to become a politician, though I’m prepared to concede it may have been from conviction and desire to serve. But we may remember another famous adage: power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Once elected — or perhaps gaining power by other means such as heredity — the ambitious politician is likely to slough off accountability whenever possible (unless, by happenstance, they achieve good or positive things). Which is why so many of us are dubious of candidates who declare their good intentions by implicitly invoking a famous personage who said “Read my lips!” — for we know that, once in the corridors of power, pragmatism and compromise and party politics will probably eat away at any principles they may have previously flagged up as promises.
The scaffolding placed around a crumbling building could be there for any number of reasons. It could be there prior to restoration or rebuilding; it might be in place in advance of demolition; occasionally it is there to shore up an edifice until a decision is made about its future. What’s not in doubt is that it mostly hides whatever is behind it.
This last reason is symbolic of the scaffolding many elected politicians put up around themselves, along with a hoarding exhibiting campaigning slogans, blandishments and terminological inexactitudes. That’s why we always have to ask them, whenever possible, What’s in it for you?
And we have to be prepared to keep asking until we get the unvarnished truth.