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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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.