Has Shami Chakrabarti actually read George Orwell?

Posted on January 29, 2013

“In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing”, wrote George Orwell in his famous 1946 essay ‘Politics and the English Language‘.

Imagine his disappointment at learning that this statement still holds true 67 years later. He would have been frustrated to find that one of the worst examples of bad political writing was an article in praise of his own essay on the subject.

The offending piece appeared in the Guardian last Thursday, written by Shami Chakrabarti. It was so bad, that it leads me to suspect that she hasn’t actually read ‘Politics and the English Language’ – or that she hasn’t read it all the way through.

Had she done so, at the end of the essay she would have found Orwell’s six rules for writing good English:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

They are an excellent guide, to which I try to stick – though not always successfully, as I’m sure at least one reader will point out in the comments.

Shami, however, utterly disregards them in her Guardian article. Let’s run through them one by one:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

“While [Orwell] illustrated this powerful theory with examples of ugly, unclear and ultimately misleading prose, today the Orwell prize, established in his name, positively celebrates work that speaks truth to power and shines a light on the darkest distortions of fact and argument.”

Oh dear. “Speaks truth to power” is perhaps the most tired phrase still loping around Westminster, like a much-hunted fox that refuses to die. As for “shines a light on the darkest [insert negative concept]“, to describe that as something we are “used to seeing in print” would be the understatement of the year. To combine the two in a sentence which claims the Orwell prize as the heir to his principles is embarrassing.

Nor are those the only breaches of Orwell’s first rule. Others include “spins in his grave”, “as old as the hills” and even an apparently straight-faced deployment of “Orwellian”, only two paragraphs after she described is as an “over-used adjective”.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

I am going to give you one quote: “securocrats”. The verbal equivalent of swallowing a Full English Breakfast made out of Lego.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

“positively celebrates”

Can you celebrate something negatively?

“creeping cancer”

A breach of rule (i), compounded by the author’s inexplicable decision to make cancer more creepy.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

Hooray, a rule which survives unscathed!

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

“Is that proportionate justification for building legal and physical architecture requiring cameras and microphones in every living room and bedroom in the land – just in case?”

That sentence would work as well – or even better – without the words “building legal and physical architecture”. After all, what is “legal architecture” other than “laws”, and what is “physical architecture” other than “architecture”?

“Is that proportionate justification for requiring cameras and microphones in every living room and bedroom in the land – just in case?” is still far from the world’s prettiest sentence, but it’s more accessible and direct than the jargon-bloated original.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Whether the article would descend into barbarism without the quotes I’ve selected is for others to judge.

What is certain is that the man the article praises would have been infuriated by the English used to compose it. If Shami intended to write a tribute to him, shouldn’t she have read his work and understood what he believed in?

Culture at the Commentator

Posted on January 24, 2013

This is just a swift post to let you all know about a new branch of my writing that I intend to expand this year . While CrashBangWallace will continue to be the outlet for my political writing, the team over at the Commentator have kindly agreed to feature my work on the culture front. So keep an eye out there for pieces on the arts, film and wider cultural commentary.

Here are a couple of recent pieces to whet your appetite:

Kate and the Curse of the Royal Portraits

Wanted: Adventurous female to give birth to Neanderthal

I hope this new content will be as well received as the political blogging I do here – your feedback, comments and support are very welcome, as ever.

Abolish the Sunday Trading laws

Posted on August 14, 2012

As readers will know, I don’t normally feature my day to day work on this blog. However, occasionally there are exceptions where the libertarian aims of Crash Bang Wallace and the output of my day job overlap.

One of those is the article I have written for today’s City AM, making the case for our outdated Sunday Trading laws to be abolished entirely following their successful trial during the Olympics. You can read it (and join the debate) here.

 

Invasion of the superblogs

Posted on July 15, 2011

I wrote when Iain Dale closed his personal blog about the potential future for the blogosphere as the balance of power shifted. As well as the upheavals in the mainstream media, the last couple of weeks has seen the first big change in the UK blogosphere for some time: the arrival of the superblogs.

With the launch of Huffington Post UK and Iain Dale and Co we’re experiencing the first tests of whether group blogging will succeed, and whether it will replace or complement the more atomised blogosphere that we’ve seen to date. My personal view is that it will be complementary – an online equivalent of the mainstream media which can afford to provide more regular and broader updating than individual blogs, but inevitably lacking the personalised character and focus of individuals (like yours truly).

For that reason, I’m pleased to say I will intermittently be contributing to both HuffPoUK and Dale & Co – writing about politics for the former and about media and culture for the latter. Needless to say, this blog will remain my focus, and the location of the vast majority of my writing. My first articles on each superblog have gone live this week, so please give them a bump by rating and commenting if you’d be so kind!

Here they are:

Iain Dale & Co: “Science Fiction should be abolished”

Huffington Post UK: “A new English politics is emerging – but which party will harness it?”

Is the world safer without bin Laden?

Posted on May 05, 2011

I’ve written a piece for the new comment site The Commentator on whether as Ed Miliband said the world is a safer place now that Osama bin Laden is dead. You can read it here.

PS totally off-topic but if you haven’t voted in the AV referendum yet, don’t forget to do so – and vote NO!

What “community” am I?

Posted on August 28, 2010

Whilst pondering the concept for my latest ConservativeHome column, on the use and abuse of the word “community”, I questioned a friend who is closely involved in a number of political correctness and special interest campaigns. What “community”, as a straight, white, middle-class English male,  do I belong to?

He thought for a while and replied

“Racists, probably.”

He was joking – I think. Read the full column here to decide for yourself.