So, as I was saying, a live TV debate doesn’t tell you what a politician really thinks. When Britain watched its five would-be prime ministers debate each other live on TV, there weren’t many revelations. Or any revelations, really. We didn’t find out what the five really thought about testy, testing issues.
And we certainly didn’t find out why Penny Mordaunt, who is placed second on the five-person list of potential prime ministers, used the word “colour” at a strategic point in her campaign video.
Have a look if you can at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swGdVIbbm2c
At 00:39, Ms Mordaunt’s campaign video – narrated by a classic BBC broadcaster male voice, with lots of flag-waving and ‘I vow to thee my country’ for background music – begins to warn the British people to be careful in choosing their leader.
“The world they inherit,” the voice says over shots of innocent children, a smiling policeman and earnest people at work, “will be decided by the character of the person you select. They will colour every aspect of our institutions.”
And so on and so forth, it goes, trotting out every patriotic visual possible, from the Houses of Parliament to Stonehenge.
Watching the campaign video, one has to wonder about the use of the word “colour”. Did it mean anything beyond what it appeared to say?
Was it a sideways swipe at Rishi Sunak, Ms Mordaunt’s main rival in the race to be Conservative Party leader and hence the next British prime minister?
I’m not sure that she is necessarily that devious but who’s to say?
Mr Sunak’s 2015 election to parliament from the very, very safe Conservative seat of Richmond allowed for a burst of euphemistic racism by the people who would soon become his constituents. Some said, “Just tell him ya’ don’t like curry”. Others added: “That MP he’ll be doing curry night every night.”
What they were really saying, of course, was quite different from what they appeared to say. It had nothing to do with food but perception of belonging. David Shih, a professor of English, has noted the interesting “textual path between something and its social meaning” in the context of racism. So, for instance, we say “race relations” as a euphemism for “racism”. Similarly, “curry” could be a worthy substitute for saying we don’t want someone too foreign.
Back to Ms Mordaunt’s campaign video. Was euphemism at play here? It’s hard to be sure, especially when Ms Mordaunt’s advert for her attempt to become Britain’s third female prime minister had some quite odd phraseology.
At the very end, for instance, she made an oblique and tortuous reference to her service as a Royal Navy reservist. She said: “Our leadership has to change. It needs to become a little less about the leader and a lot more about the ship.”
Say again? Is that even English? As she is spoke…