What would Orwell make of Rajoy’s doublespeak and dismissal of valid debate?
One of George Orwell’s best-known essays is called Politics and the English Language (1946), which is pretty much required reading for British politicians and journalists. Orwell believed that political chaos is always bound up with the decadence of language, and that verbal clarity might bring some improvement to politics. He criticized “imprecision” and “stale images.” Being a writer of the mid-20th century, he expressed himself robustly: “Political language is designed to make lies sound true, and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Let it be said, he had no better opinion of journalists: “British journalists do not take bribes: they do it for free.”
In his famous article Orwell included five examples to illustrate the “mental vices” suffered by politicians. From this angle, it seems worthwhile examining the press conference Spain’s prime minister recently gave to offer a summary of 2013. As Orwell would put it, either Rajoy has an idea in his head but cannot express it (case A) or unwittingly says something other than what he meant to say (case B) — or he is completely indifferent as to whether or not his words have any meaning (case C).
Rajoy was asked a question concerning the so-called consensus on the king’s speech: “I heard it, yes, in Pontevedra. That was where I was. But allow me one reflection. Concerning the constitutional changes that many people are talking about, let me say that the most important constitutional change now taking place in Spain, and we seem not to notice, is Europe. […] That is where a constitutional change of the highest magnitude is really happening. […] Consider what is meant by the fiscal pact [the obligation to submit budgets to the European Commission before bringing them before the national parliament]; consider what is meant by the contractual agreements [obligations undertaken by a government calling for aid, still under discussion in Brussels]. This is where the Constitution is being changed. […] So, the invitation to talk [supposedly formulated by the king] is a very reasonable one, and it seems excellent to me.”
Does Rajoy suffer from the same verbal confusion in his private life as well?
Doubts: Did Rajoy really wish to express his backing for those who complain that the Spanish Constitution is being changed, with reforms of huge magnitude, behind the back of the parliament and the Spanish people? Was he making fun of the king?
Questions about the content of the new abortion law. First: “The law to which you refer regulates the action in a balanced manner, in line with what was approved in 1985.” Second, concerning whether the third permissible condition (fetal malformation) for abortion in the 1985 law might be brought back: “This is a matter for parliament.” Third, on the possibility that, as leader of the PP, he might allow deputies a free vote on the legislation. “I have already spoken about this sufficiently.”
Doubts: what “action” was he talking about? Was he making fun of the journalists?
Question on the judicial inspection of his party’s headquarters, and the judge’s complaints about lack of cooperation: “The PP always cooperates with the justice system, always respects the decisions of the courts, and will make all the legal modifications necessary to prevent undesirable situations in our country.” Doubt: what was the reference to “our country” about? Wasn’t he supposed to be talking about the PP? Was he making fun of the judge?
Question on the possibility of holding a referendum on Catalonia, but throughout Spain: “I am not speaking about a referendum. What I am saying is that what Spain is has to be decided by the Spanish people as a whole.” Doubt: Is Rajoy completely indifferent to the meaning of words? A final doubt: After a press conference, does the prime minister say to his advisor: “I don’t know what I said; but who cares, because cynicism is what politics is all about,” or does he suffer from the same verbal confusion in his private life as well?