I suppose it’s only natural, given that I have spent my entire adult life working with either the written or the spoken word, that I should be endlessly fascinated by words. If you ask me what I am reading, I am tempted to reply, like Hamlet: “words, words, words.”
So, let’s play a little word game. Which leading British politician do these words apply to? Strength, values, conviction, leadership. And what about these? Weakness, cynicism, calculation, followership.
The answer, in both cases, is Gordon Brown. Labour word-spinners want you to associate the first set of words with him (he used them a lot in his speech to the Labour conference a couple of weeks ago); the Tories, obviously, prefer the second lot (David Cameron trotted them out at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday). You will, I fear, hear a great deal of them from both sides over the coming months, because political strategists are convinced that these are the words that, if repeated often enough, may well sway your vote when the time comes.
And while we’re on the subject of words, aren’t clichés wonderful? That’s why they become clichés, after all, because they express a thought so effectively. Thank you, therefore, Harold Wilson, for: “A week is a long time in politics.”
This time seven days ago, I was tapping away at my computer not knowing if by today we’d already be in the throes of a general election campaign. Now, Gordon Brown is looking like a badly mauled lion, with great lumps having been gouged out of him by some young wild animal which suddenly lunged at him from the political undergrowth.
But Wilson’s point, back in 1964, was that political fortunes can shift in either direction with great speed. And if it was true then, long before 24-hour news networks and the internet, it is 100 times truer today. After all, a year ago, it looked as if Labour were heading into the political wilderness; a month ago, they looked as they were ready to rule for ever. So I’m not taking any bets on what they’ll look like next week, next month, or next year.
Perhaps you find all this Westminster village stuff boring and irrelevant. So here’s some info from Iraq that may be of more interest to you. The number of Iraqi civilians who were killed during September, according to official Iraqi government figures, was 840. Believe it or not, that’s less than half the August figure, and the lowest monthly death toll so far this year.
The number of US military fatalities during the month of Ramadan, which is just ending, was 51. That compares to 70 over the previous four weeks and is half the number of US service personnel killed during Ramadan last year. (All these figures are taken from a report by the French news agency AFP, which also says that although levels of violence may have fallen, US commanders on the ground admit that the security turnaround they’d hoped for has not yet happened, and that what they call Al-Qaeda attacks are in fact on the rise.)
And if you were listening to the programme on Wednesday, you’ll recall our report on the two million Iraqis who are now “internally displaced”, ie have had to flee from their homes but are still in Iraq. That’s in addition to the two million who have left the country all together since the invasion of 2003.
Whether you regard these latest figures as encouraging or depressing depends entirely on your point of view. I’d be interested to know what you make of them.