Immigration Minister Liam Byrne, glottal stops and all, was on Radio 4’s PM programme yesterday, discussing his plans for a “British Day” bank holiday. Apparently he has canvassed opinion and he feels the “idea…has really caught on” that we need “an opportunity, permission, if you like” to celebrate Britishness, and so he has selflessly decided to promote the idea; it certainly has nothing to do with Gordon Brown having banged on an on about the concept for ages, and we can also disregard the fact that most of the public will agree with any old spurious reason to have a day off work.
Unfortunately the tight-fisted git isn’t proposing that we get an extra holiday to celebrate our country right or wrong, rather the existing August bank holiday is to be requisitioned for the cause: the fact that this holiday is already the date of the Notting Hill Carnival, Manchester’s Mardi Gras and the Lower Puddleton Annual Summer Ram Roast and Tombola, events that may not want to be roped into this all new homogenised celebration, seems to have concerned Liam Byrne not.
But when PM’s Eddie Mair pointed out that choosing the August bank holiday for British Day meant holding it on a day that wasn’t a bank holiday in Scotland, Byrne began to get himself into a bit of a tangle. He maintained that some time in summer – and preferably at the end of August – would be the best date to hold this celebration; in other words, no move from the August bank holiday, as far as I can tell. Mair countered that this would still mean that this proposed British Day “in and of itself excludes Scotland”, and that while the Scots do have a summer bank holiday, it is at the start of August. Byrne reiterated that the end of August would be better, for no particularly good reason other than that lots of people are away on holiday earlier in August; although presumably no more or less than later in the month I would have thought, and the Scots are seemingly currently unfazed by this fact. Eventually, after several unconvincing defences of his position Byrne finally fell back on the phrase “all I’m trying to do…is actually to get this debate started”. To which, Eddie Mair, seasoned as he is in dealing with this piece of rhetoric, would have been well within his rights to have said “No you fucking weren’t! You were stating your opinion. Now; is it your opinion or isn’t it, fuckwit?”
And that’s all I’m really bothered about here; this incremental increase, year on year, in the number of people who when challenged on their opinions think it is acceptable to use this piece of sophistry, to excuse their stated viewpoint by claiming they only meant to “start a debate” on the subject. Who do they think they are, deciding unilaterally to start an impromptu discussion on a matter? Don’t they know that by law you have to be a Dimbleby to do that?
But you know, I really don’t mind people using the phrase when they genuinely want to open up a debate on an issue at hand; it’s just that usually they don’t. These are mere weasel words, worse than management speak, an attempt, when criticised, to wheedle out of any responsibility for your already declared position, to strike a pose of neutrality on a subject you clearly felt strongly enough about to have raised in the first place. Whatever happened to just stating your opinion, defending it, and sticking to it? Then, if someone raises a reasonable critique of your plans you can have the decency to accept that you may consider any contrasting opinions or objections, that you are open enough so that when the facts change you can change your mind. Anything, anything rather than this deviousness, this cowardly backsliding, this transparent attempt at deflecting criticism rather than tackling it head on.
Whenever we see someone who inappropriately claims that they are merely trying to “start a debate” on a matter we should boo them – and hiss them – at every mention of the phrase, don’t you think? Or perhaps that’s a bit harsh; I’m only playing Devil’s Advocate to be honest with you, just taking up an extreme position in order to get the ball rolling, for others to avail themselves of this blog’s comments facility to discuss the matter amongst themselves, to, you know, what’s the phrase…?