Mark Ellse is a physicist, author and formerly an independent school headmaster and proprietor. He ran a building and transport company for fifteen years.
The roars from Labour in the House of Commons when Margaret Thatcher nearly referred to the Community Charge as the ‘poll tax’ showed the importance of a word or two.
There is a world of difference between charging people the same amount for the same service and charging them to vote. Thatcher knew that and the left knew it too: part of political victory over the Community Charge was winning the battle over the language with with the argument was described.
There are good reasons why those on the left are keen to devote efforts to controlling political language. Believing in the perfectibility of mankind through the state, wanting to see every change as a step on the path, means that they cling to the language of virtue.
Those of us with conservative views are more ready to see the essential compromises of political decisions. To our mindset it is obvious that one might have to, for instance, cut benefits, or freeze pay. The reasons for such steps are so obvious that we don’t instinctively give care to our language. The left then leap upon us. It was ever so: one thinks back to ‘milk-snatcher’ Thatcher, for instance.
But in these times, when the political atmosphere is so emotionally driven, the conservative position needs to be defended with language that is given very careful consideration.
The obvious need to protect future generations from the effects of our own profligacy mean that Conservative governments see the need to balance the budget. Such is prudence, a thoroughly virtuous concept. Why on earth have we allowed this virtue to be pilloried as ‘austerity’, with all the negative connotations that are associated with that word?
The Chancellor says that ‘the public are weary of austerity’. Jacob Rees-Mogg spoke about the consequences of austerity in the NHS. When we use the language of the left, not only do we fail to carry the electorate with us, we also muddle our own thinking, undermining amongst ourselves our own understanding of our own political position and the need for it.
Other battles have been lost over similar negligence of thought and language. The waiting period for Universal Credit is an example.
In the West Midlands, 60 per cent of the population have savings of less than £100. The reason for this is not poverty but simply because there is a general assumption that one doesn’t need a piggy bank any more because the state will provide. There is an entirely proper debate to be had about the period for which we should expect people to provide for themselves and families, and a week is certainly not unreasonable: the state needs to encourage a modicum of thrift.
But the really difficult political battlefield, which is threatening to cause untold harm to so many aspects of society lest we bring some reason to bear, is about ‘equality’. Equality is such a good-sounding word that, along with freedom and brotherhood, seems to be so much a cornerstone of civilisation that no one dare demur. But question it we must if we wish to avoid slipping into chaos.
Grudgingly or happily, we see that the concept of the equal value of different people comes from Christian roots. A religion which says ‘there is neither Jew nor gentile, slave nor free, male and female, for you are all one’ is certainly a great leveller. But, good Lord, it doesn’t mean that they are all the same! After all, what’s the point of diversity if we are all the same?
Arguments for having a balance of races and genders in decision-making bodies in part stem from the belief that people are different and that assembling different views leads to better decisions. If we are all the same, it makes not a scrap of difference.
We need clarity of thought. If one gets the vocabulary wrong, the thinking will be wrong. We need to define our words very carefully if our thoughts are to be coherent. We need to differentiate equality, the concept that all people are of equal value, from same-ism, the belief that all are the same.
The left is already engaging on this issue. Traditional feminists rebel against the Owen Jones’ same-ist concept that gender is merely a matter of social construct and personal preference. The former recognise that same-ism ultimately undermines all concepts of the protection of those that are vulnerable. If we are all the same, how can we identify who we should protect?
It is the same-ist who becomes indignant when finding out that even in Norway, where equality is an art form, men outnumber women four to one in engineering. It is the same-ist who cannot accept that male and female aspirations are different and that there will always be fewer women wanting to sacrifice their home lives for promotion and that women will always have a free time preference and men a salary preference. It is same-ism that is unable to take a broad view of gender difference and recognise a same-ist denial of the biological reality of sex will do no good for the few with personal complications but will bring misery to many that it confuses.
We should be bold. Equality we extol. Same-ism is nonsense.