Why Emily Thornberry’s use of ‘b****cks’ is important.

In 1977, Nottingham Magistrate’s Court was the scene of a well publicised indecency case revolving around the use of the word b****cks – or to be more specific, its use in the title of the debut album by the Sex Pistols (as in Never Mind The…). Richard Branson, the boss of Virgin Records, hired celebrated QC, John Mortimer, for the defence, who successfully asserted that that the word was an Old English term, historically used to refer to a priest speaking rubbish.

Why is this relevant? Because on Sunday morning (at the sort of time priests up and down the country were preparing for morning service) Labour MP, Emily Thornberry, invoked this Anglo Saxon term to respond to a comment made by Tory Defence Minister, Michael Fallon, on the Andrew Marr Show. Said comment was in response to Mr Fallon’s assertion that a Labour Government would negotiate with Argentina over the future of the Falkland Islands.

Mr Fallon is guilty of overusing rhetoric to get his point across and Ms Thornberry – no shrinking violet herself when it comes to hogging the microphone- will nonetheless have won herself some new fans on Sunday when she voiced on screen, what many viewers would have been voicing at the screen as the Defence Minister overplayed his hand.

As I have written before, the Tories have realised the power of rhetoric in this election campaign, to the chagrin of Labour, which has failed to land simple message slogans that leave a lasting impression (although they are hoping ‘for the many, not the few’ will eventually stick). However, Miss Thornberry’s response serves as a warning to the Conservatives. Although the Tory steamroller continues to efficiently trundle over the opposition, its love of rhetoric could start to wear thin on a fatigued electorate with three weeks to go in this election campaign.

The problem with rhetoric is that it makes a quick and hard impression, but has sustainability issues when used as a long term message, with the danger of invoking that old idiom; ‘empty vessels make the most noise.’ While the Conservatives seem to be maintaining a lead that is light years ahead of Labour, in the Facebook era attention spans are short and opinions can change as quickly as the prevailing winds.

In summing up during the 1977 legal case, Mr Mortimer said, “What sort of country are we living in if a politician comes to Nottingham and speaks here to a group of people in the city centre and during his speech a heckler replies ‘bollocks’. Are we to expect this person to be incarcerated, or do we live in a country where we are proud of our Anglo Saxon language? Do we wish our language to be virile and strong or watered down and weak?” The case was subsequently dismissed.

We are a week away from the deadline to register to vote. For Labour to even have the proverbial  snowball’s hope in hell chance of contesting this election it needs a few big b****cks moments from the Tories to galvanise those who didn’t vote last time round to sign up to their vision. If not, this June will be a case of never mind the ballots, here’s the Tory majority Theresa May’s been dreaming of…

Luan de Burgh

May 2017

Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of The de Burgh Group – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.