Bad language

The strange thing about language, the anniversary of the death of Litvinenko, elections in Australia

One of our star turns on newstatesman.com is Victoria Brignell who writes on living life as a 'wheelchair rider' in her regular monthly slot Crip's Column.

This week she turned her wry gaze on the often vexed issue of language. Just how should we talk about disability. It's a useful - if inconclusive - insight into what labels are acceptable. As you would expect, I hope, there isn't unanimity on this issue.

Victoria writes: "I know disabled people who care about terminology passionately and others who aren’t really bothered. But every disabled person will contemplate the appropriateness of descriptions at some point. So what labels do us crips prefer to be stuck on us?"

Click on her pages to find out.

Much else has been turning up on the website. Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economy and Policy Research wrote us a piece in which he tried to redress some of the blatant bias in the reporting of Hugo Chavez and the forthcoming referendum in Venezuela. We'll be returning to this subject very shortly.

We've also been focusing on the Australian elections. Ahead of the game we profiled that country's new prime minister Kevin Rudd a few weeks ago.

Then there was the first anniversary of the death of Alexander Litvinenko, the perilous state of UK house prices (or otherwise), Sian Berry's London mayoral launch plus a look at Lebanese politics and Hezbollah's leader Nasrallah.

All that plus my interview with Sian's rival for mayor, Lib Dem candidate Brian Paddick - the former top Met officer which I'd like to draw special attention to. Oh the power I wield.

Moving back briefly, if I may, to the knotty issue of language. During my lunchbreak I sometimes like to visit the pigeon eating pelicans of St James' Park.

Anyway en route there the other day from Terminal House, I encountered an American family in a tunnel under a busy junction near Victoria Station. Without preamble the mother approached me and said: "Where's the subway?"

I said, given we were in a subway: "Do you mean what we call the Tube or Underground'?" She replied she did and I pointed her in the right direction.

"Is this the subway?" she then asked.

"No," I said patiently, keen to avoid confusion, "this is the underpass."

Anyway I tell you this to demonstrate how confusing language can be because I was watching some TV the other day. Suddenly on my flickering set appeared a bunch of sweaty people who seemed to be dwelling like troglodytes among the jungley tendrils.

One by one these people did a 'piece to camera' and begged to be allowed to remain where they were.

Now, with the exception of Cerys Matthews, whom I eventually identified, they were nothing to celebrate and all insisted they wanted to stay put. Yet I then learned at the commercial break that the programme was called I'm a celebrity get me out of here. Now in this era of dodgy TV shows that can't be right. A more accurate title might be: I'm not a celebrity, leave me where I am. I'm hoping the public will be happy to oblige.

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.