Parliamentary prose – the language of leadership

by Anna Fozzard

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“In this, the most peculiar and extraordinary of political times, the language that is used is incredibly important.”

Anna Soubry, leader of the Independent Group for Change.
We were surprised by the heightened language we heard in Parliament last night. And it’s really divided the nation. Some think it’s an acceptable symptom of passionate debate around crucial issues, some think it’s bringing parliament into disrepute.

What was said?

If you missed it, Labour’s Paula Sherriff called for PM Boris Johnson to stop using words like ‘surrender’ to slander legislation MPs dislike. The PM replied that he thought her comments were ‘humbug’, which only inflamed the situation further.
What’s wrong with ‘surrender’, anyway?
Twitter holds the answer. One user explained that it suggested the UK is at war with the EU, which carries serious implications.

The wrong words can…

The words we use are powerful – yet people in power don’t always use them effectively. To persuade others we must choose words and language that bring people around (or at least closer) to our point of view, not words that alienate and disparage them.
In fact, we think it’s even more important to use the right words when the opposition doesn’t agree with your view. If you need to write a complaint to a business, for example, you would take a logical approach and be polite yet persuasive. It’s the best way to make your case and get the compensation you want. Send a rude letter and the business may refuse to look into the matter.

Language of the law makers

Parliament has always been a place for heated debate. There was even a time when swords were commonly drawn. That’s why there are two red lines on the carpet (they’re more than two sword lengths apart so no duels could take place in the chamber itself).
MPs choose to do their fighting with words now, as they should. There are actually rules in place to promote politeness and civility in the chamber. Words like ‘coward’, ‘git’, ‘rat’, ‘stoolpigeon’ and ‘traitor’ are all on the no-go list. But an outright ban may not be very effective. Perhaps it should be more about observing the spirit of the rules. We think it would be more compelling for a leader to choose the language of persuasion and respect, knowing that the right words can make positive change rather than stoke division and do harm.

The right words

So what words do we want to hear our politicians using? The answer isn’t to be positive all the time. In fact, if MPs use overly inspirational language, it can suggest they’re looking at matters through rose-tinted glasses and not understanding the whole picture.
Every leader will have their own style, but we think anyone in a position of power should make sure their language is always considered, clear and civil. Because the world needs leaders that can see beyond their own position and consider all points of view. Being able to hold and share individual views is a cornerstone of democracy, after all.

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