While Matthew D’Ancona (There is poison in the air – and reckless speech doesn’t help, Journal, 15 April) is right to call out Gerard Batten’s defence of Carl Benjamin’s degraded sentiments, the title of D’Ancona’s article, and the view that Benjamin had committed “a monstrous abuse of language”, form part of the problem that he is addressing.
In UK and US political discourse, it is customary now to hear the most poisonous views labelled as inappropriate uses of language, whether by their accusers or, in apologia, by their perpetrators. This creates a false dissociation between language on the one hand, and ideas, feelings and beliefs on the other. There is the implication that the views themselves will be rendered acceptable if only the correct language is chosen – a merely technical solution to moral or political offensiveness. Behind this new cant category of “misspeech”, then, the source and nature of poisonous ideas can remain unconsidered. Language is not just a set of tools; words express what people think and feel.
In the coming months, political discourse in the UK will be infiltrated by more instances of hatred, more or less insidious, from the expected sources. So let’s respond appropriately: representatives of the far right don’t simply use language poorly – though they often do that, too.
• Looking at a photograph of the assembled ranks of the European Research Group (ERG) one gets the impression that they’d struggle to organise a drink-up in a bierkeller, let alone anything more serious. Even so, David Lammy makes a good point in comparing their project to what took place in Germany in the 1930s, albeit organised fascism in Britain fortunately remains very much in a minority (Report, 15 April).
The ERG stands behind Theresa May’s hostile environment, a Little England that is very far from an inclusive democratic society. That might explain why Tottenham voted so strongly for remain in the 2016 referendum. The love for Euro-austerity is not high in the area, but the concern that a leave vote would open the door to a more racist government – leaving ethnic minorities, the poor and others whose faces don’t fit potentially exposed – has turned out, as Mr Lammy has underlined, to be all too real.
• It was the brave men of my dad’s generation who fought the fascists on the streets of east London in the 1930s. I’m nearly 70 and never thought I would ever be required to do the same, but I’m ready.
East Hoathly, East Sussex
• “Careless talk costs lives” is no longer an historical slogan imploring the public to be careful what they talk about during wartime. It is rooted in the present, where the bounds of reasonable discussion have been broken so many times by mainstream elected politicians, and others who could never be considered anything other than rabble rousers. It is high time that every outrageous claim made by Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage is challenged. More journalists should take a look at how Eddie Mair challenged Boris Johnson in 2013 and called him “a nasty piece of work”. David Lammy’s passion in taking on the ERG is a challenge to us all not to turn a blind eye to dangerous language.
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