Rebecca Coulson is a freelance classical musician and writer, and the Conservative Prospective Parliamentary candidate for the City of Durham.
My biggest problem with Ed Miliband’s contretemps with the NHS is that ‘weaponise’ is not a word. Well, ok – let’s not be prissy about this – it is a word, because people are using it as one*. But it’s a stupid word, all the same. And, going forward, it hegemonises ourselves’s dangerised obfuscatising.
Apart from an involvement in politics, the best way to become acquainted with obfuscation is to live in a university city. And, specifically, a university city boasting an impressive number of academics good enough not to need to descend to it…Because people tend to obfuscate to hide their inadequacies. Simplicity and conciseness are underrated, yet exacting: you’ve got to be genuinely good to make a career out of playing Mozart instead of Berio. And, if you’ve managed to convince yourself about something – no matter how complex – but you can’t relate it in a straightforward manner, you’re probably not there yet. If you’re not able to explain inflation to your six-year-old niece using chocolate bars, you don’t quite get how it works.
I went to a public lecture a friend gave the other night on emergence and panpsychism (both pretty mental concepts); what he said was not only immensely convincing, it was also immensely understandable. Indeed, his argument encouraged cutting away unnecessary distractions in order to focus on the truly important. How better to slam obfuscation? That one of the following questions was extremely obfuscatory only served to show the significance of his point, and the paranoia that arises in the face of someone able to eschew the shroud of fakery.
It’s about time we learnt this lesson in politics. Uncontextualised statistics, tired buzzwords, emotive claims of correlation implying causation, irrelevant scaremongering, and business-speak like ‘delivering’ (used in the sense of ‘succeeding’, rather than of pushing leaflets through letterboxes on snowy afternoons) don’t just turn people off. Rightly, these things also make people suspicious.
And where is this tendency more prevalent – and more tolerated – than in the discussion of economic policy? After all, we’re a country of people who find amusement and pride in our failure to conquer simple arithmetic: “I’m rubbish at maths!” we apologise cutely, struggling for change at the corner shop. So, it’s hardly surprising that the Crémant-de-Limoux socialists can rejoice in Oxfam’s dodgy dossiers on wealth inequality: “We need policies that don’t just work for the 1 per cent…” I sometimes think I overuse the word ‘zero-sum’, so for great refutations of this kind of obfuscation, see some of Ryan Bourne’s recent pieces, such as this and this.
But, for a really topical example, let’s turn to the T-word. Sorry if you just stopped thinking about this for another year by (like me) getting your online return sent in, with hours to spare, at the weekend. “Tax is a four-letter word in the States,” an American friend told me the other day. Well, nobody likes tax, but I’m not convinced that we hate it for quite the same reasons over here. And this relates to my apology: in the UK, relatively few of us fill in tax returns. Which is why I think that the annual tax statement has much more intrinsic value than most bureaucratic semblances of transparency. If, like over 30 million Britons, you’re involved in PAYE, tax is usually intangible – it just happens. Yet, we all know it’s evil…I wish this meant that everyone was as in favour of ‘limited-state-limited-taxation’ as I am, but it doesn’t.
Rather, the word ‘tax’ has become a hyperlink for government cruelty. Whilst the removal of a subsidy should be, in no way, definable under the term tax*, I’d bet good money on the ‘bedroom tax’ being far from a Pointless Answer (don’t think this means I watch daytime TV).
And to what does all this obfuscation lead? Confusion about the simplest politico-economic principle of all:
PPC: So, which of these twenty-three listed issues matters most to you and your family?
Constituent: X, of course – it’s criminal that it doesn’t receive more government funding.
PPC: Cool. So you’d be happy to have your tax upped to pay for that?
Constituent: No! X is really important – the government should be paying for it.
Call me patronising. Call me off-message about this. But we’ve got to the point at which we seriously need to remind people that public spending comes from them: this ‘disconnect’ has become endemic. So, whilst I hate negative politics, we mustn’t let the opposition get away with playing obfuscatory games about this. It’s simple. It’s obvious. And clear economic policy will win us the election.
40 per cent aside, starting at the bottom by gradually upping the personal allowance doesn’t just reward ‘hardworking’ families, it also shows that cutting overall taxation is still a Conservative tenet. (It’s hilarious when the Lib Dems try to take credit for this stuff.) That we’re applying this tenet whilst taking the country from recession to recognition as the world’s fastest growing major economy is one of the strongest arguments for our overall approach. We mustn’t let obfuscation cloud this – and we mustn’t sink into its tempting grasp.
*‘“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”’ (Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll)