UK Liberty

The importance of language

Posted in state-citizen relationship by ukliberty on March 19, 2008

Recently William Heath has spoken about the importance of language and how it affects debate:

We’ve been asked to talk about “channels”. Already I’m uneasy. Channels are what broadcasters beam at viewers. The channel is what IT vendors exploit, in one memorable phrase, to “kill the competition and hoover up their footprint”. My specific unease about the language of directive marketing mirrors a broader unease about Transformational Government.

It’s upside down.

It purports to be citizen-centric, but is based on the principle that we the government own the data, and we the government will join it all up, the better to do things to you.

Of course we need to transform government, but my fear is that the underlying motivation behind Transformational Government is not yet right.

Let’s also move on from the language of manipulative centralised marketing. IPS ponders “various forms of coercion” for its ID system. TG talks of sharing of intelligence, driving take-up, exploiting technologies. It’s all focus, target, segment, execute. This is the discriminatory and coercive language of those who cancel 161,00 Egg credit cards, not the respectful, empathetic language of whose who place human dignity at the heart of their plans for public services.

I think he’s right.  The words people use are indicative of motivation – in this context, how the citizen is perceived by the government and its suppliers.

No wonder things seem topsy turvy – no wonder we seem to be serving the government, rather than the government serving us.


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