Not a sch-lur but a telling sch-lip

The moment in the Leaders debate passed not unnoticed. Jeremy Corbyn referring to Jeffrey Epstein pronounced his name in the German fashion – ‘Ep-schtein’. Understandably, commentators were hanging on every word and syllable to find proof of Corbyn’s deep anti-Semitism, and here were syllables dripping with meaning – not ‘Epsteen’ as the man called himself, but ‘Ep-schtein’: make him sound German, very foreign, for the man was Jewish and in this way Corbyn could emphasise that and how set apart he was for that reason.

Actually though, I have to defend Jeremy Corbyn to a certain extent. I will not deny that he is an utter twerp unfit for public office, and agree that he has permitted a foul sewer of anti-Semitism to thrive and grow in the Labour Party, and his own remarks put him within that toxic culture so that he might be attracted to Jew-haters’ ideas, if he had an idea in his head. On this occasion though it was something else.

He was trying to be clever and correct. He saw a name, saw it looked German and so pronounced it as German. It is a habit of the Islington classes to try to show their universalism by pronouncing foreign names in the way the foreigners do, and even if they get it wrong, they have the kudos points.

I will admit it myself: I read and speak German frequently enough that I use German pronunciations without thinking even when the word has passed thoroughly into English. In IKEA, I have to check myself to stop using Swedish pronunciations for products (or in fact Swedish-as-mispronounced-by-a-Norwegian). French words that have been part of English for centuries still get a retro-pronunciation as French in some mouths, including some words that French borrowed from English in the first place.

It is not always a show-off (all right, often it is) and it may be a way to display having had an education, or to show ones own cosmopolitanism. Alternatively, and think this is the main reason, it may just be anxiety to get it right and not to mispronounce and be seen to be ignorant.

We get it wrong. How many of us, after all, speak all the languages that come across our plates from day to day? In most delicatessens the staff call a chorizo sausage a ‘choritso’, because they think it is the authentic Mediterranean pronunciation, which presupposes that the first half could be Spanish and the second half Italian. I do not expect them to speak either language, and I now grit my teeth rather than correct them all to the Spanish pronunciation (‘choreetho’). That is one Corbyn would not get wrong – he speaks Spanish very well as most of his wives so far have been Spanish.

Trying to get foreign names right is the best way to get them wrong. Use “Peking” in a newsroom and you could be facing a half-hour dressing-down and insistence that the old name is insulting to the Chinese and it has to be pronounced the Chinese way as “Bay-jing” – if only they knew that names written in Pinyin are not pronounced as if they were English, and the name is actually pronounced closer to ‘Pey-ching’; so ‘Bay-jing’ is surely just as insulting? I cannot think that ordinary Chinese folk care. In any case, a name can be different in different languages – no one bats an eyelid at our capital city’s being called ‘Londres’ in French or ‘Llundain’ in Welsh, and to be fair, the Welsh name is older than the English name. Names have become part of English been transformed to be spoken in English. However the worry about being incorrect or (most horrifying) sounding uneducated, weighs heavily on some, and they keep getting it wrong, and thus proving the limit if their education.

This over-correction is nothing new. Throughout the 1980s the BBC insisted that the White South African government operated a policy pronounced ‘apart-height’: that would be correct if it were German, but it was an Afrikaans word and is ‘apart-hate’ (somehow more appropriate).

It is in this context that Jeremy Corbyn mispronounced the name of the late Jeffrey Epstein: not out of malice to expel his race from society, but out of an ill-conceived attempt to be right. As with most of his ideas, his concern to be right has been exactly the opposite in result.

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Round 1: both challengers still standing

The drama, the tension, the gameplaying and deception, the headlines written long beforehand. The Telegraph will say that Boris triumphed over a faltering Corbyn. The Guardian will say Boris was shifty and failed to answer questions. The Mail and the Mirror – well, you can guess. The stories were written before the match and just had a few blanks to fill in.

You would think it should have been a knock-out blow: the intelligent, bubbly Boris against a daft conspiracy theorist with terrorists for friends. It must be harder on the telly to make an impact than in a logical, one-to-one conversation where you have to make sense and not just rhetoric.

There we have today’s politics though: sound-bite against sound-bite, and just trying not to sound too insane or anti-Semitic. Can we perhaps hope for some winning surprises in later debates? Round one with no knock-out.

Still, it was there, it was live, it was raw, it was … a pity that I was out leafletting all evening and missed it.

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Fallen riders – Auntie’s list

Thank you to the BBC (a rare compliment at election time), for a hilarious, or worrying article on all those would-be candidates who did not fall at the first fence but fell before the race began. The miscellany of frightening, fortuneless, fallible or frustrated fellows is actually just to scratch the surface:

The guiltiest men and women still won through and will sit in the House of Commons – those who have the personal power to prevent their being defenestrated or who have such seniority that the BBC will not attack them as it does the weaker members of the herd for fear of accusations of bias, or for fear that it will hurt Labour too much.

What a parcel of nutters and victims the list reveals. It is even-handed in covering all the main parties, mostly Labour of course as they are the weirdest. It has been painful to sit through the process through which anti-Semitism has become mainstream, even respected in some quarters.  Once it was just snide asides, like the old “More Estonians than Etonians in the Cabinet these days”, but a solidified doctrine taking over the mainstream of a major political party; that is new. As it is mainstream, the only surprise is that these candidates have been removed not celebrated (at least the more dispensable of them have been removed).

Then there are those who have said something off-colour on Twitter. (I thought that was what Twitter was there for? Do people actually take it seriously? That may explain why Fay is so unnaturally restrained on Twitter compared with what she says in public. Heigh-ho.) One day we will ask ourselves as a society whether a word should condemn if it shows no actual intent to malice. For now we are all in Luke 7:32.

It is all at the last minute, and there were so many mild, inoffensive people who could have been picked as candidates, but they do not go into Big Politics.

I thought that the BBC were doing a public service by listing, with complete even-handedness, those who have been defenestrated at the starting gate.  That may be the wrong way round though.

The thing is, it is the BBC and its search for gaffes which has made the alleged wrong-doing of many of these candidates an issue.  We may prefer a rough-and-tumble candidate who feels free to mouth-off about his opinions, and unless we get those opinions then Parliamentarians cannot develop effective new ideas. We need men like Colonel Sibthorpe, who was wrong in just about everything and spoke in such a way as to bring votes to the other side, but who exposed humbug and questioned unthinking consensus.  The BBC will not allow us to have them.

That said, they have done a service in exposing Jew-hate amongst the Labour ranks, and while they will not expose the insane conspiracy theories which sustain it, Auntie can show us where it emerges, before it becomes so mainstream that those hatreds have to be accepted in debate for the sake of neutrality. As to the rest of the fallen riders, they may be the victims of an excess of sensitivity or of their own stupidity.  It has been entertaining though, and really that is what the Beeb is best at.

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The five stages of Grieve

The five stages of Grieve have been identified by psychologists:

1.   Denial

2.   Anger

3.   Bargaining (with foreign enemies)

4.   Believing your own wildest rhetoric

5.   Standing as a vanity candidate out of spite in a General Election

Many former MPs recently defenestrated may be feeling the signs of Grieve as the nights lengthen and the season of ill-will approaches. Once outgoing characters in an established rut, now thrown into the real world and feeling Gaukey, we should not be cruel – they are in need of help and counselling.

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Selecting the select few

Meetings come in a few briefly described types: those where the result is stitched up beforehand and the members are a rubber stamp; those of high tension and raised voices with fortunes and careers made or broken on a knife-edge; ones where the members doze while the few who are interested get on with the business; and those like tonight’s where nationally important issues are at stake but everyone is too polite to make a thing of it.

This is a bizarre election:  you should never have constituencies still without candidates barely a month from the poll, but this has been a bizarre time for politics for a long time, and several Conservative Associations were having their selections tonight – and some still have not had theirs, and at least one has had a spill already and needs a new man. This is unprecedented. On the Labour side it is worse – they find themselves with a slate of candidates full of those whose advancement came through publishing weird, hatred-laden conspiracy theories, and they cannot be removed or there would be few candidates left. (My, the next Parliament will be fun.) That is where we are though.

Back to tonight and a packed village hall. Three candidates, all of them good, all knowing their political careers are on the line. All have a line in big speeches, which helps I suppose.  Only one is local though, and that counts in a parochial part of the county like ours.  It does not help that it was all last-minute, our longstanding member having deselected himself.  (The number of defenestrations has been an unwonted phenomena.)

We have to ask how far personal favours go.  It is for local members of course, and if one candidate was obviously parachuted in at the will of CCHQ, that does not give her a free pass, especially against a local lass.

They were all impressive.  I thought we might skip over how they had voted in the Referendum, which would have been damning, but no: out it came and was damning indeed.  Next – would they turn renegade like the man they were to replace?  All were ready for that question and all had pledges of loyalty of course.  (Every man has his price.  I do not want to find out what it is.)

No favours; that is what I decided when I went in.  Come off it though – politics is all about personal favours and whom you can best assume will give a leg-up when you need it. I have shamelessly schmoozed cabinet ministers (only to find them in turn ejected from their offices, so perhaps I am best avoided).  “The best for the nation” often comes down to “if they are all equally good, who is a friend?”

Three on the stand, all with jawdropping achievements in their CVs – I reflected on how empty mine would be were I invited to try my hand. Not a single Protestant among them disappointingly: an unheard of position not so long since. All otherwise had good records and good pitches.

I know who had the best pitch and the best presentation, but only one had voted Leave in the Referendum, and for some in the hall that was the decider, for enough to secure the nomination.

I wonder how often the same game has been played out in village halls up and down the kingdom.