Delingpole on the liberal-left’s weasel words

James Delingpole does not tolerate fools and especially detests the liberal-left, especially when they hijack the language.

Not so long ago – and indeed for the first five hundred and fifty odd years of its recorded usage – a subsidy was something quite clearly understood by everyone to mean a cash incentive.

Here, for example, is the online Merriam-Webster definition:

Money that is paid usually by a government to keep the price of a product or service low or to help a business or organization to continue to function

Here is the one from my Chambers dictionary:

Aid in the form of money; a grant of public money in aid of some enterprise, industry etc; or to support or keep down the price of a commodity, or from one state to another.

This is certainly the sense in which I have always understood the word. I would suspect the same is true for most of you. So I would argue that there is something slippery and disingenuous about that claim above that there is no “internationally agreed definition of what constitutes energy subsidy.” Yes there is. Everyone – every normal, reasonably well-educated, English-speaking person, at any rate – would know instantly what constitutes “subsidy”, regardless of whether or not the word “energy” is put in front of it. It means a cash incentive.

What it definitely doesn’t mean is a tax reduction. Why doesn’t it mean this? Well, let’s examine the logic for a moment. Suppose I were to mug you in the street and steal, say, £100 from you. But then, in a fit of generosity, I decided to hand you back a tenner so you could get a cab home. Could that tenner be reasonably described as a “gift” or a “donation”? Well, yes, I suppose at an enormous stretch, it could just about. “Dono” means “I give” in Latin, so, yes, when I give you back that “tenner” it could be construed as a gift or a donation.

But only by someone lacking in any kind of moral responsibility, or intellectual consistency, or understanding of sense, context and nuance. No sensitive user of the English language would ever employ the word “gift” or “donation” in such a perverted way.  

None are more perverted in busing the meaning of words than the left wing.

The same applies to this new usage of “subsidy” – as endorsed above by the Environmental Audit Committee, by the Guardian’s Damian Carrington, by the Sunday Times’s Jonathan Leake, by Barry “Dork Brain” Gardiner, by the Overseas Development Institute, by Bloomberg New Energy, by the IMF and so on. Every one of these people and institutions is using it in the novel sense “being granted a tax reduction by the state.” So, for example, if you are a fracking company which would normally be taxed at say 20 per cent, but the government decides to kick start your industry by reducing the tax rate to, say, 15 per cent you are – according to this new tortured definition of the word – receiving a subsidy. But how can this be? If the government takes less of your money in tax it is not actually giving you that money, any more than I was giving that tenner a moment ago just after I mugged you.

This verbal sleight of hand should worry us for at least two reasons. The first is a basic economic one: if proponents of renewable energy are able to fiddle with the word “subsidy” in such a way as to persuade the world that renewables are far less heavily “subsidised” than fossil fuels, then they will have won an entirely undeserved propaganda victory by turning the truth on its head. Since this economic aspect has already been covered pretty thoroughly here I shan’t go into it again.

The second is all about newspeak, the Orwellian concept so beloved by the liberal-left formerly known as socialists.

But it’s the second, more broadly cultural aspect, I think, which ought to concern us even more. What we’re seeing here is precisely the kind of deliberate, cynical and politically motivated corruption of the language which Orwell warned us of in his Appendix to Nineteen Eighty-Four.

In the Eighties and Nineties, among the words suborned in this way were “discrimination” (formerly an admirable ability to discern; now, a pejorative term used to endorse our culture of grievance); “investment” (formerly something private individuals did with a view to making a profit; now pretty much any form of government spending regardless of how wasteful and pointless); “elitism” (formerly a noble desire to encourage only the best; now – an ugly manifestation of the kind of entrenched unfairness which all good citizens must rightly loathe and despise).

Latest victims of this ugly trend are “subsidy” and “tax” (as grubbily misused by Alastair Campbell and his ilk in the phrase “Bedroom Tax”).

Or perhaps Matthew Hooton’s claim of a copper tax?

What are dangerous about both these new usages are the cultural assumptions underpinning them. In the first case what we are effectively being invited to accept is that there is no longer such a thing as private property, only what the government in its wisdom chooses to allow us to keep. So, if the government taxes us less it is not simply taking less of our money; rather it is actually giving us money (because that money is the government’s, not ours, see). In the second place, we are being invited to believe that everyone who receives free housing courtesy of the welfare state has an entitlement which trumps that of the taxpayer who is funding that “free” housing. So, instead of our being permitted to celebrate a government policy which tries, in however pettifogging a manner, to reduce the tax burden of our bloated welfare state, we are goaded by this inflammatory “bedroom tax” phrase into being outraged by it.

I don’t think that Orwell would have been all that surprised by the way these twisted new usages are so heavily endorsed by the BBC. It was the basis for his Ministry of Truth, after all.


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.

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