Tuesday, 3 January 2012


If Dubya didn't call them missspokes, he should have done. Please note this is about missspokes and not misspokes.

They occur in all walks of life (drives of life in America, where they don't walk; cycles of life in Amsterdam). Classics like the sign at the English church, "Preachers for July will be nailed to the church door" and the sign by the railway crossing "Beware of trains going both ways at once" lighten life. On a slightly more mundane level, poor grammar results in signs like this in a bird hide in Somerset: "The benches in this hide are not fixed to the floor to allow better access for wheelchairs" (you might have thought that was the reason, but actually they're fixed to the floor to stop people stealing them); or the following expression of distrust at a car park in Norfolk Police: "Do not leave valuables in your car. Police make regular visits".

I'd like to highlight some political bloopers and misunderstandings from my own experience in local politics in London, some as good as the candidate somewhere who proclaimed, "Vote for my opponent and you'll get a pig in a poke. Vote for me and you'll get the real article!"

The scene is a tense council debate on a Conservative motion on the Council's sex education policy, which the Conservative group had decided (not unanimously, I suspect) was "promoting homosexuality", which was illegal (promoting it, I mean). The actual policy just said something like "recognising alternative orientations and choices". A populist Conservative female councillor is leading the attack (I will be quite vague about this because I know that, greatly to her credit, she told this story against herself to a Young Conservative group later). She proclaims: "What these people do in the privacy of their own homes is up to them, but (dramatic pause) I DON'T WANT IT SHOVED DOWN MY THROAT!" Cue mass collapse. The presiding Deputy Mayor, a white-haired stalwart of the old Labour Party, is unable to maintain gravity or indeed his posture and comes up with the markings on the mayoral dais etched on his reddened face.

Now myself, speaking on a discussion on plans for a new shopping centre and a proposed underpass: "We must make it safe for muggers!"

Or a Labour councillor casting doubt on a Liberal councillor's concerns about a patch of land in his ward that had become a magnet for defecating dogs: "We must closely examine the source of the problem!"

Finally, not a miss-statement but a lesson in not making assumptions about people, or rather, since that's unavoidable, maintaining a healthy caution about the assumptions.

It's a European Parliament election, an event which in Britain usually creates the frenetic interest characteristic of slow readings of the Encyclopedia Britannica. I'm canvassing door to door and doing what I usually do when encountering "Don't know"s - asking if there's anything that they're concerned about. The door is answered by a middle-aged white woman. She didn't know there was an election. I try the question about her concerns.

"YES!" she says. "All these illegal immigrants!" (I make some tentative guesses at this point). "They're all flooding in through other countries and my son in law says these Italian and Greek and Spanish police are all corrupt!" Slightly confused, I suggest that corruption does sometimes occur in our own police. "MY SON IN LAW'S A POLICE OFFICER!" she says. Aaaargh. But she's still expanding on her concerns about border controls. A young Black man appears at her shoulder, obviously about to leave. He looks at my Liberal badge, gives me a thumbs up and a word of support, and leaves.

"That's my son in law," the woman says.

No comments:

Post a Comment