Top 5 Most Annoying Political Clichés

From party leaders to pub philosophers putting the world to rights, when politics is being discussed a well-worn cliché is never far away. Over used buzz words, metaphors and rhetorical stances have probably been around for as long as party politics itself, no doubt annoying the hell out of people interested in nuanced, intelligent debate ever since. Here are five that are guaranteed to raise my admittedly easily lifted hackles.

5: Let me be absolutely clear...

When it comes to politicians, this generally means clear is the last thing they’re going to be. Next time you’re watching a political debate, or interview, keep an eye out for it – it’s a matter of when, not if. Why it is so irritating is harder to pin down. Is it that we’re supposed to assume the speaker is deliberately obtuse the rest of the time? Or is it just because it’s a bit patronising? As in ‘you’re obviously not too bright, so let me spell it out for you...’?

4: You can’t put the genie back in the bottle

Some people seem incapable of discussing anything political without lapsing into metaphors. This one frequently crops up whenever the negative effects of any new concept or – in particular, technology – comes up. It’s a lazy way of saying that we don’t really have to bother addressing the problems. But metaphors as a rhetorical tool are necessarily limited. The thing is, sometimes you actually can cram the mythical creature back into its receptacle, as it were. Take our current disastrous reliance on fossil fuels, for example. It is quite conceivable that, with the appropriate research and development, we could be able to transition to alternative power sources and leave the damn stuff in the ground. The problem with that is that it requires the kind of concerted, organised effort and investment that our current profit-driven economy is so hopeless at providing. Easier just to say sod it, I mean you can’t put the genie back in the bottle, can you?

3: Whatever its faults, capitalism is the only system that works

So prevalent is this standpoint in the age of globalisation that it even spawned its own acronym – TINA (i.e. there is no alternative). In that form, it’s associated with the likes of neo-liberal political scientist Fukuyama, who famously declared that the triumph of capitalism represented ‘the end of history’ (care to comment on that now, Francis?)

As academic theories often do, it has seeped insidiously into mainstream public opinion. You can hardly discuss economics these days without tripping over some version or other of TINA. It usually signals the beginning of the decline of the conversation towards tired, irrelevant indictments of the Soviet Union, as if this is somehow the only alternative that has ever been tried or suggested other than neo-liberal capitalism. To me, TINA’s inherent flaw is that capitalism, as a system, isn’t actually working particularly well, and the ‘purer’ the system (lack of state involvement and regulation of the finance sector, for example) the worse the consequences get.

Implicit in this rather lazy position is that capitalism is working pretty well for me. But most of the world’s people don’t live in the West. In the Majority World, this system is giving people a spectacularly poor deal, and could hardly be said to be ‘working’ for them. Even in newly prosperous, up-and-coming states like Brazil or India, it is failing to solve age-old problems of poverty, environmental degradation or inequality.

2: That’s human nature

Closely related to No.3, this cliché frequently gets trotted out to justify greed, excess and self-interest, for example ‘greed will always be a motivator, that’s just human nature’. But on that basis, ‘human nature’ could equally be used to justify any number of things, such as murder, rape and gang violence. On the other hand, other aspects of the make-up of our human nature could be said to be compassion, empathy  and looking after one another. But when did you last hear anyone argue that ‘of course governments should protect the poor and vulnerable, that’s just human nature’?

To me, the whole point of a political system and civil society is to moderate the less pleasant, selfish instincts that most of us to some extent harbour, and encourage those positive aspects of human nature. As an argument to justify an economic ideology that not only exploits people’s greed but actively seeks to stimulate it as a desirable, almost noble attribute, it seems pretty poor, not to mention lazy.

1: Hard working families

Politicians of all stripes seem to be addicted to this one. Innocuous on the surface, the phrase has some fairly nasty implications. On one hand, it’s just a little ego massage for the voter. Everyone likes to think of themselves as hard-working and deserving of policy rewards. But it also encourages people to think of decent, hard-working families like themselves as ‘us’ and those other lazy, feckless scroungers that make such convenient political capital as ‘them’. Politicians like it because it’s a subtle way of nudging voters to continue to support the chipping away of the welfare state because people who don’t deserve it are getting something for nothing - those deliberately workless, weasel-like families of the tabloids’ imagination. In reality a huge portion of the welfare budget actually goes to people who are in work, to supplement pitiful wages. 

Besides, who the hell are these ‘hard-working families’ anyway? Are they sending kids out to work down the mine as soon as they’re weaned off the lazy dependency of breast milk? Maybe even their dog has a paper round? The more I think about it, the more intrinsically annoying this buzz-phrase is, which is why I couldn’t put it anywhere other than First Place.

Well those are mine, what are yours? Answers on a postcard... or just use the Comments box...