Dianne Abbot suggested “white people” played divide and rule… Then David Cameron suggested Dealing with Ed Balls was like dealing with someone with Tourette’s syndrome.
Leave aside the vast gulf in the responsibilities of these two characters, the reaction to the “gaffes” is the same. The people who were faux-indignantly jumping all over Abbot’s tweet, were the next day defending Cameron’s “off the cuff” remark. Those who were staunchly defending Abbot’s anti-racism were opining that Cameron’s remark was “offensive” and demonstrating his “arrogance”.
Of course this is just a game, one I play from time to time. But this constant offence seeking is poisonous to discourse, by forcing politicians into a mode of speech wildly divorced from that used by you and me. If Abbot had said “the white establishment” rather than “white people”, she’d be expressing an uncontroversial and widely held view about the tactics of colonialism. The 140 character form therefore, where truncation is necessary (whether or not she had sufficient characters left to use the longer expression, brevity is the soul of Twitter) leads problems expressing thoughts accurately. Embarrassing, and fun to hoist a Labour politician on her Race-mongering petard, but no-one’s really offended.
Tourette’s syndrome is widely used casually as a descriptor of an aggressive and foul-mouthed person. The combative Ed Balls certainly fits. I doubt this is genuinely offensive to anyone with Tourette’s, outside the grievance industry. His remarks were no-doubt jumped on as enthusiastically as they were by the Twitter mob, in revenge for the Abbot storm a few days earlier.
Perhaps we’d have more respect for our political system, if we let our Politicians speak like the rest of us. Those who use twitter engage more intimately with members of the public than any politician in the pre-Internet age, and should be applauded. It’s fun squealing “offence” to discomfit our lords and masters, but perhaps we don’t want to scare them out of Twitter and off the Blogosphere.
Let’s let our politicians speak freely. Maybe then they’ll continue to let us…