8 May 2012

Relaunching the coalition and the cost of Etonian English?

'About a month ago, I blogged about a speech by the leader of the Labour Party in which Ed Miliband used quite a lot of verbless sentences (HERE).

Today, I'm grateful to Stefan Stern for alerting me via Twitter (@stefanstern) to an article by David Cameron in today's Daily Telegraph, presumably written as part of the coalition's 'relaunch' after Tory and LibDem losses in the recent local elections.

For Mr Stern, it (rightly) reminded him of the 'content-free' political speech by the late Peter Sellers - which you can enjoy in full HERE.

Miliband was making a speech, but Cameron was writing an article
In the case of Ed Miliband's speech, one of the comments on my blog pointed out that had the full stops been commas, the verbless sentences would no longer have been verbless and could have served as useful stage directions to help the speaker to deliver his messages in nice short chunks.

I can see (but don't agree) that some speechwriters might want to make a case for verbless sentences when writing for clients speaking in our sound bite hungry world.

But I cannot see any justification (or excuse) whatsoever for leaving out verbs when writing an article that is explicitly intended to be read by readers (of a supposedly 'quality' newspaper), as in the following two paragraphs, purportedly penned by the Prime Minister - which, apart from the first sentences, degenerate into verbless lists:

'This is painstaking work.
'Seeing through the reductions to government spending.
'Cutting regulation and business tax to help the private sector.
'Helping start-up firms, investing in apprenticeships and boosting trade to help rebalance our economy in favour of enterprise, manufacturing, technology and exports.
'And repairing our wrecked financial system so that we can have confidence in our banks and they can lend properly again.'
'I’m proud of the battles we’ve fought in the first two years of this Government. 
'Battles that we won in education, so that schools toughen up on exams, insist on discipline, and have the freedom to do what teachers and parents want. 
'Battles that we won against the teeth of Labour opposition on immigration control and welfare reform, too.'

If this is the kind of English you end up writing after being educated at Eton, I'd be asking them for my money back if any of my sons wrote like this (which, I'm glad to say, they don't).

Or, if it were a ghost-writer who actually wrote this stuff for Cameron, s/he should be sacked forthwith and sent off for intensive private tuition with Mr Gove.

I'd also quite like to know who pays for such illiterate scribes to work in Downing Street - tax-payers or the Conservative Party?


Nic said...

The paragraphs aren't completely verbless paragraphs, in the first paragraph the word "is" is a verb and in the second, the abbreviated "am" & "fought" are verbs.
All the others aren't sentences, most don't have subjects either.
The subject and verb in most of the two paragraphs are implied though. "We are seeing ... We are cutting... We are helping..." that isn't very good writing most kids would be killed for starting sentences with "We are" all the time. Teachers in my school hated repetition as apparently it showed a) didn't know many words b) couldn't structure what you wanted to say into sentences that weren't repetitive.
Forgive me if I'm wrong, but it reads like that the PM writes in a similar manner to the way he speaks. He's writing as if he were given a speech.
Would the PMs writing and speeches get better if in his speeches and in his writing where he is trying to in us over, implied verbs and subjects are off limits.

nic said...

sorry, that should be to "win us over".
Should be: "that isn't very good writing, most kids would be killed..." I also put a "that" where there was no need for one.
My thoughts were moving faster than my hands and grammar was obviously proving to be too difficult.