Penny Reduced

April 19, 2010

Sam Cooke didn’t know much about history but it never held him back from putting his feelings to music. Likewise, I don’t know much about George Orwell, but I’m pretty certain that the left’s original and only Blair would spin in his grave at some of the handiwork of one particular nominee shortlisted for his eponymous prize for blogging.

Laurie Penny of Penny Red, the blogger I refer to, after attending the Orwell Prize short listing event wrote this, :-

“So last night, two hundred well-dressed members of the British literary and political eschelons gathered in the Thomson Reuters building in Canary Wharf to watch three nice white chaps in identical suits jostle for the most recalcitrant position on immigration.”

“eschelons”? smeschelons!

Wrong spelling, wrong meaning and wrong usage.

Perhaps I’m picky but then so was Orwell. He had some particular things to say about language and politics and strong views about the connection between clarity and thought in both. Unlike Ms Penny, George Orwell wrote without the benefit of an Oxbridge education, though, again like Sam Cooke with his school subjects, it never held him back.

An error or two are forgivable no doubt, but what about this?

Laurie Penny in her blog on the recent televised debate between party leaders:-

“…the remaining 86 minutes of airtime were a pageant of empty rhetoric, with all three leaders struggling to give least offence to centre-right swing voters in “Middle England.”

Clearly, she doesn’t approve. And what’s more:-

“And Clegg’s repeated imprecation that politicians must not “let the young offenders of today become the hardened criminals of tomorrow” rang terrifyingly hollow for a generation who have had to downsize their dreams and want nothing more than the chance to hold down a job in a world that isn’t entirely on fire.”

Down with Clegg then eh Laurie?

Yet, up she pops in the New Statesman with:-

“But Nick Clegg risked and gained the most, setting the bar for a return of studied rhetoric and oratory to the British political arena.
Clegg understood this instinctually. Aristotelian formations were embedded into his populist dialectic, and Clegg also used those favourite constructions of neo-Sorkinite American progressive oratory, the tricolon and the repeated refrain, answering one question with no less than five imprecations not to let “the youngsters of today become the hardened criminals of tomorrow.”

Form over content, content over form? One wonders.

One wonders also what Orwell, who deprecated the tendency for political language “to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness”, would make of neo-Sorkinite progressive oratory. As for studied, empty rhetoric…hmmmm.

To be fair to Laurie, she modestly admits in her blog:-

“I’ve been muddlesomely practicing making political writing into an art with this blog, but it’s quite to (sic) shock to discover that I may have been objectively getting it right, at my age.”

I can quite see why she was shocked at her nomination; the judges must have taken leave of their senses.

Nonetheless, I do think that Orwell would have considered muddlesomely as an apt, clear and accurate term, cannily descriptive, even at her age, of this authors writing and political thinking.

What more apposite term could adequately cover a self-proclaimed socialist who intends to vote Lib-Dem and has taken a job with the communist Morning Star? Apart, that is, from confused.

With her background, values and standards I foresee glittering prizes ahead, including, very possibly, a safe Tory seat in Parliament.


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