On a sophistry that leads away from conversational honesty in politics…

Malachi O’Doherty has a nice piece (the transcript of his piece in yesterday’s Talkback) of salami slicing of meaning in language, when he picks up the strange case of two opposing politicians who claim the right to be more than one person at once. The two people concerned: the DUP’s Culture Minister later to be referred to in his separate capacity as North Belfast MLA Nelson McCausland; and his Sinn Fein opposite number, the Chair of the Culture Committee, later to be referred to only as Tyrone MLA Barry McElduff).Malachi notes:

Maybe on other occasions he speaks as a representative of the Orange Order or a member of a church, and are we to allow him the conceit that all these people, all called Nelson McCausland have different opinions about things; that they aren’t to be taken as committing each other when they make bald statements?

But if you are still scratching your head and wondering what all the fuss is about, here’s the problem with all this metaphysical out-of-body stuff:

It means that the business of the elected assembly – elected that is, by you and me, in our capacity as voters – is shielded from us, by those we have elected into office, telling us that they wish to disregard their responsibilities for a moment and speak outside the roles we have given them.

It’s as if you had brought someone into service your boiler and asked them if it needed replaced yet and they said: well, speaking in a personal capacity, I think this will last you another ten years, but speaking in a professional capacity I like to recommend our new model.

The personal capacity allows people to speak a little more informally – perhaps even a little more honestly – but it also preserves the official capacity against the question that might force it to loosen up and be more honest too.

Commenters, please note: in an alternative to switching on registration (which usually deals effectively with trolls), I shall be moderating this thread heavily for man-playing and points off the point. As Kensei has said in a previous thread, all such posts will be taken out with extreme prejudice so that the rest of us can debate what’s actually being said both above and below…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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