Political Discourse: Does It Exclude the Working Classes?
Do politicians speak in a way that excludes the working classes?
"I just don't get it."
This is a common phrase uttered when talking about politics.
With politics being at its, well, craziest—I've also seen a rise in politicians using words to deceive and confuse us. Style over substance—that seems to be the common theme in political discourse.
So, does this exclude the working classes from politics?
"Us vs. them"
Let's be honest—our government is led by the rich. Whether you're in Britain, France, or America.
In the US, most Supreme Court Justices are millionaires, and the majority of Congress have been millionaires for several years.
In Britain, the Conservative party is made up of incredibly wealthy, privileged individuals. Let's not ignore the House of Lords and the monarchy, too.
There's always been a significant class divide in politics. It's understandable, then, that we question how these private school educated, sons of millionaires ever make decisions that will be in our best interest?
Something lesser known in history is that the working classes weren't allowed to vote, up until relatively recently. The 1918 Representation of the People Act changed a lot more than just women being able to get the vote.
Before 1918, democracy was limited to the very few wealthy men in Britain. Some were even allowed to vote in more than one constituency.
After 1918, the vote was no longer limited to a man who owned property—it was an automatic right to (most) citizens. This meant a generation of working-class British men, including those who had fought in the war, had the chance to choose their own representatives.
Although the working classes got the vote, there still remains a divide in who governs our country, and who lives in the working-class communities.
The power of language
The way we communicate with each other is unbelievably important.
Language is a cultural, social, and psychological phenomenon—it's why we're drawn to people with similar phonetics and dialogue as us.
Politicians use language, arguably more than any other industry or career.
They trade in arguments, speeches, public statements, manifestos, and pamphlets. The wrong choice of words could completely derail a political career.
The language used could also dictate who votes for the party. Take a look at the Brexit result. Predominately white working-class areas voted to leave and supported Farage in flocks.
Farage appealed to them. And it doesn't boil down to white working-class people being "racists" as is often proclaimed (historically working-class areas have fought for civil rights).
Farage did what other politicians rarely do—he entered working-class areas with amazing promises. He focused the campaign on the NHS, jobs, and money - and he came across as just your average pub-goer.
Now, Farage's morals and "promises" are questionable, to say the least, but can you blame working-class people from supporting that notion? Especially when the politicians fighting for remain would use language filled with jargon and complexities.
This isn't intended to be insulting or patronizing. How we speak and the words we use have minimal impact on how intelligent we are.
Societal and cultural impacts the way we speak—from how we pronounce to the words we use. This is known as sociolinguistics.
Working classes have been found to speak in a less standard language. This is due to their upbringing, education, and the community around them.
Imagine you have a working-class lad from Newcastle—they went to an underfunded public school and were never introduced to politics. Conversely, you have an upper-class lad from London. Their parents paid for private schooling. Their school and family environment meant that politics was always a topic talked about.
Of course, the latter will have more understanding of politics.
As somebody who went to an underfunded public school, I can confirm that there was no talk of politics. Everything that I have learned over the years about politics, feminism, socialism, and climate change has been entirely self-taught.
I've found that whilst I can understand the lingo and vernacular in politics, I choose not to use this same kind of language. I feel it is a way to exclude the working classes from the discussion, creating that "them and us" culture.
When I watch political debates in the House of Commons and see a bunch of middle-aged men with outrageously posh accents shouting at each other, I do not feel represented.
Of course, with the likes of Jeremy Corbyn, Lisa Nandy, and Mhairi Black—the representation is beginning to get much better.
So, how does the political language exclude the working classes?
It's so ridiculously infuriating. A politician will get asked a simple question, and they answer in a long-winded, vague way.
Politician's speeches are so lengthy and wordy. They speak in a way that purposely makes them seem intelligent and precise, but when you scrutinize their language, you'll very quickly realize that they're actually spouting tonnes of unnecessary words.
Take Boris Johnson's remarks at the UN on the 24th of September 2019.
"Just as the Carboniferous period created the indescribable wealth—leaf by decaying leaf—of hydrocarbons.
Data is the crude oil of the modern economy
And we are now in an environment where
We don't know who should own these new oil fields
We don't always know who should have the rights or the title to these gushers of cash
And we don't know who decides how to use that data
Can these algorithms be trusted with our lives and hopes?
Should the machines—and only the machines—decide whether or not we are eligible for a mortgage or insurance?"
It's really such a long-winded, outrageous way to put a point across.
Complex and pretentious
Reading the above from Johnson, there's a good chance you'll be thinking "pompous."
As humans, we place too much trust in overly complicated neuroscience explanations—even when they're not logical at all.
So many politicians scream obscure verbiage out, just to hide the fact that they don't want to answer a question. They'll dress up the embarrassment with sophistication and vitality.
George Orwell himself listed pretentious words that are commonly used in politics. These included:
Phenomenon, liquidate, triumphant, inexorable, and categorical.
Turns out this political phenomenon of pretentious dictation has been triumphant for centuries. Whilst we may be able to use theatrical dialect as a farce when the governance of a country plays the same game, it becomes a predicament.
You see how a thesaurus can transform such easy messages into complex ones?
Buzzwords. They're just accepted as part of the political, linguistic furniture at this point.
Take Theresa May's "strong and stable" robotic punchline. Did these words ever actually mean anything?
Politicians are experts at making meaningless words with empty promises seem like something really remarkable.
What does this mean?
This obviously creates various issues. The trust in politicians is so low—and their use of language doesn't help.
With the use of empty words, pretentious lingo, and lengthy sentences—it doesn't appeal to the working classes. It's a different culture and environment, and it understandably isn't appealing.
Politicians need to be more authentic, cut out the pompous words, and eliminate the unnecessary. This is especially true if they want to win the working-class vote, particularly as the younger generations are showing a much bigger interest in politics.
Teachings about politics should also be introduced in all schools. Everybody should turn the legal voting age, knowing about the different parties, and how they can vote.