Friday 1 May 2009

Metspeak: a new entry in the Orwell dictionary of dark political arts

I wish to propose a new word, rather in the spirit of George Orwell's 'Newspeak': the word is 'Metspeak'.

The death of poor Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests led to widespread and severe criticism of the Metropolitan Police for the misleading accounts they gave of the circumstances surrounding his death. There was much commentary in the media that the Met had apparently learned nothing from the case of Jean Charles De Menezes where, again, the Met gave misleading information about the circumstances of his death.

Well, the Met have had just about a month now to sort out what happened on April 1 at the G20 protests, to get the facts right and to state them clearly, in preparing a report for its watchdog, the Metropolitan Police Authority. It is, therefore, nothing short of amazing that their report, authored by the Met's assistant commissioner Chris Allison, has managed to be so misleading.

David Howarth, the Liberal Democrat MP who continues to do excellent work on this issue, has pointed to a whole host of inaccuracies in this report.

I will focus on just one here. Its an absolute howler - but one that, looked at carefully, shows just how much skill and ingenuity can go into Metspeak.

According to The Guardian:

'The [Met] report stated that "whenever possible, people were allowed to leave the cordon" around the Bank of England and the Climate Camp in Bishopsgate.'

And, in a 'statement last night', the Met said: "Wherever operationally possible people were allowed out of the containment."

In other words, the Met is trying to intimate that it did not apply a kettle at the Bishopsgate Climate Camp, based on the principle 'Nobody in, nobody out', but in fact allowed people to leave the cordon.

This is not the impression that anyone else there had. As The Guardian reports: '...accounts from hundreds of people caught inside the pens for hours indicated police refused people permission to leave.'

I wasn't inside the cordon. Along with hundreds of other people I was outside it. I was there from shortly after 7pm, which was shortly after the cordon was imposed, until about 9.30. I was at the Liverpool Street Station end of the cordon, though I also looked to see what was happening in some of the smaller roads leading off Bishopsgate.

At no point did I see a single person leave the Climate Camp. At no point did I talk to anyone who claimed to have left the Climate Camp.

Well, that's not quite true. I did talk to one woman who claimed to have struggled out of the cordon just as it was being imposed and who claimed that she had been grappled to the floor by police officers for trying and then given a fine. As I said in my original post, I have no way of confirming this particular accusation.

But one would have thought that if the police were letting people out of the cordon, I would have seen someone leave or talked to someone who claimed to have left without obstruction. But no. I have every confidence that any other witness to the event would say the same thing.

However, one cannot - quite - accuse the Met of simply telling lies. Take a close look at the wording of those Met statements again: 'Wherever operationally possible, people were allowed out of the containment.'

Note that, strictly speaking, this is in fact perfectly consistent with absolutely nobody being allowed out. Because, after all, it might not have been 'operationally possible', in the police's view, to let anyone out!

So in fact the Met is, as I said above, trying to intimate that there was no kettle, but, strictly speaking, is saying something which is quite consistent with what everyone who was there knows took place: a kettle.

They are denying what they did, but not denying it at the same time. Many will hear the denial of kettling, but may not catch the subtle, implicit non-denial. And that, I suspect, is the point.

As the philosopher John Austin once said: 'There's the bit where you say it, and there's the bit where you take it back.' However, when philosophers do this they tend to say 'it' in one place and unsay 'it' elsewhere. They rarely achieve both at once using the very same words.

Such, however, is the dark and dangerous ingenuity of Metspeak.


Calix said...

Metspeak is very good.

The Ministry of Justice and Freedom of Information also sound ominously Orwellian. When my wife was growing up under Communism in Bulgaria ministries had just such chilling names.

Robert said...

Lets not kid our selves the Police lied it's teeth out on both deaths, protecting the killers or the thugs.