Friday, December 09, 2005

Boy George Savaged by Beast

Politics - and the language of political rhetoric - is back on the front pages of the national press (which makes a change from I’m A Celebrity and Robbie Williams in Not Gay Shocker), with David Cameron being elected to lead the Tory party and facing his first exchanges with Tony Blair in Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

But it’s an older fighter, rather than a new pretender, who hit the headlines yesterday: Dennis Skinner aka The Beast of Bolsover, a Labour MP known for his fierce socialism and hatred of the pampered rich,
got himself excluded from The House of Commons for goading the new Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, over his alleged use of cocaine.

In an exchange over rates of growth in the economy in the 1980s, Skinner commented "The only thing that was growing then was the lines of coke in front of Boy George and the rest of the Tories." Skinner wouldn’t retract his statement, so was excluded for the day.

Marginally higher up the scale of subtlety (but not much) was the playwright, Harold Pinter’s blistering attack on the USA and its foreign policy in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. In The Guardian, Michael Billington, the newspaper's theatre critic, analyses the content and delivery of Pinter’s speech, commenting:

Warming to his theme, Pinter argued that while language is, for the dramatist, an ambiguous transaction, it is something that politicians distort for the sake of power. And, in making his point, Pinter deployed a variety of tactics: the charged pause, the tug at the glasses, the unremitting stare at the camera. I am told by Michael Kustow, who co-produced the lecture, that after a time he stopped giving Pinter any instructions. He simply allowed him to rely on his actor's instinct for knowing how to reinforce a line or heighten suspense.

Although the content of the speech was highly political, especially in its clinical dissection of post-war US foreign policy, it relied on Pinter's theatrical sense, in particular his ability to use irony, rhetoric and humour, to make its point. This was the speech of a man who knows what he wants to say but who also realises that the message is more effective if rabbinical fervour is combined with oratorical panache.

The full text of Pinter's speech can be read here.

A more – apparently – conciliatory approach was taken by David Cameron towards Tony Blair in PMQ on Wednesday, but
an article in The Independent takes a look at the pragmatics and hidden implicature present in the first bout between the two leaders. Reading between the lines they can see that Cameron's ostensibly affable style hides a sharper, steelier core:

David Cameron: "I want schools to control their own admissions. That's what's in the White Paper and let's see it turns into the Bill."

What he meant: I am going to do all that I can to drive a wedge between the Prime Minister and Labour backbenchers on the sensitive issue of admissions

Tony Blair: "It's obvious that we disagree on the issue of admissions. I think if schools are free to bring back selection at the age of 11 that would be regressive for our country. So I'm afraid in this grand new consensus we have to disagree on that point."

What he meant: Phew! Thank goodness I've found something to disagree with him on. Hopefully this will reassure some of the Labour doubters.



Useful for:
ENA1 – Language & Representation
ENA3 – Spoken Language

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