‘Let me be clear’, the current political phrase-du-jour, was used by David Cameron three times today in his riot speech. Including derivations it was used eleven times. I’m beginning to suspect that there’s a correlation here, with clarity gradually dropping as the number of ‘let me be clear’s increases.
There are a fair few things to take issue with in Cameron’s speech (the assumption that politicians are in any way suitable for lecturing on morality; that young thieves deserve severe punishment while political and banking thieves are allowed to return their ill-gotten gains or receive bail outs from the tax payer; that the traditional ‘family’ is some kind of magical panacea; the strawman shoehorning of human rights and health and safety into the debate, all of which are largely irrelevant to the rioting, simply to forward the Tory agenda which is in fact striving for less responsibility; the incorrect and dangerous assumption that safe streets require tougher police without ‘paperwork’ to hold them back; the ridiculous, naive use of the sentence “A concerted, all-out war on gangs and gang culture”, as if that’ll do anything other than encourage them; the relegation of the banking crisis, MPs expenses and phone hacking scandals to a minor footnote at the end, when it’s integral to the problem at hand) but it is the meaningless overuse of ‘let it be clear’ that I find most objectionable.
It’s not just Cameron, of course. In the last few weeks, everybody has started saying it. Reverend Nims Obunge on Newsnight, for example, repeatedly stressed how he wanted to be clear, often making the declaration so many times that he then ran out of time to make his actual point.
‘Let me be clear’ is the new ‘common sense’. If you feel the need to declare that something is ‘common sense’, chances are it isn’t – it’s just you imprinting your personal ideology onto everybody else. Similarly, if you drop ‘let me be clear’ onto the start of every sentence, it’s probably because you’re not being clear, or because you don’t actually have a decent point to make but want to convince everybody otherwise.
Let me be clear: if your point is clear, you don’t need to prefix it with ‘let me be clear’. And if your point isn’t clear, you should rethink or rewrite it, as a catchphrase isn’t going to help.