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British defence minister armed with opaque jargon

Politicians are known for being good at ducking questions and poor at giving straightforward replies. If there was a contest between them,  I believe the British Defence Secretary would stand a good chance at being named jargon master, at least in England.

At a recent question-and-answer session in the House of Parliament, Philip Hammond was discussing outlines for the reformed procurement arm Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), which he said would be a “bespoke central Government trading entity”.

Asked about future wages and conditions in the DE&S, the Defence Secretary replied: “There will be an overall envelope of resources for operating costs, which will be subject to a downward trajectory over time, representing efficiency.”

He explained that there would be further discussions with the trade unions as the new organisation developed its pay model, adding “but we do have to face the reality that this part of the public service is very much commercial-facing”.

I assume this meant there would be budget and pay cuts. Despite his convoluted use of the language, Mr Hammond is known as a politician who gets things done.

But Mr Hammond was not alone in fine-tuning the art of obfuscating matters. Oh no, one of his deputies rose to the challenge with typical British aplomb.

Asked by an MP what the government was doing to “support conflict prevention”, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Dr Andrew Murrison replied that the department “uses a multi-departmental approach to prioritise UK activity in upstream conflict prevention and stabilising fragile and conflict-affected states around the world in association with partner nations”.

One journalist assumed that this translates as “we’re trying to do our share”. 

What struck me reading the minutes of the debate was that the members of parliament who put the questions, with a few notable exceptions, seemed largely grateful for the answers. Three even thanked Mr Hammond for his reply but I suppose that’s down to British politeness and parliamentary protocol because there were some tough questions asked.

My main point though is I detected nobody objecting outright to the opaque language used by the powers that be. I guess they’re all used to it because they themselves often speak the same gobbledygook, not at Mr Hammond’s master level, but still …

Dear reader, I welcome your comments.

Many regards,

Rolf Soderlind


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