Rudeness in public life is not new and gives guaranteed headlines. Boris Johnson has won another huge raft of headlines and is being ‘investigated’ by the Conservative party on the grounds he may have breached the party’s code of conduct with remarks he made about women wearing the niqab.
Rude: Boris Grabs the Headlines (again)
He was commenting on a new law in Denmark which bans the niqab (which leaves the eyes visible) and the burka (which covers the full face and body). Although Johnson argues against such a ban, he caused great offence with the following comments:
The comments are certainly rude and disrespectful but many will identify with them.
And this is the dilemma as I see it.
If you are PC, some will assume you are not being straight
If you are always politically correct and polite in public life, and on the media, people think you are not being straight, you are not getting to grips with the issue, and you care more about style than substance.
Being polite and diplomatic about a controversial subject can also be interpreted as ‘weasel words’. Some will assume you don’t believe anything you are saying.
On the other hand, if you are undiplomatic or rude people think you are genuine, straight talking and you are ‘calling a spade a spade’, ‘telling it like it is’ and other positive sentiments.
Rudeness and Political Gain
Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, and many others including Disraeli I am told, all in their time have flown in the face of political correctness for political gain.
For a myriad of reasons, social media has magnified the benefit of being rude.
It is naive to see Boris Johnson’s recent comments as him ‘misspeaking’ or unable to control himself. This is a clever political operator playing political odds and building his political base outside the current government. All the hand-wringing in the Tory party and the official enquiry will not make a jot of difference to his future behaviour. It might, of course, serve to deter others with less courage, from using the same tactics.
Recently a website called The Conversation published a detailed piece asking if rudeness has a legitimate place in politics. The author, Amy Irwin, a lecturer in psychology, writes about how rudeness affects not just aggressor and victim but bystanders as well and mentions the ‘incivility spiral’ – which is the rather obvious truism that rudeness begets rudeness.
The piece also argues that while rudeness has some benefits it puts normal people off politics. Sadly, I think the opposite is true. Rudeness makes politics more engaging and easier to understand. Of course, some will find it tedious or distasteful but many more will find themselves talking politics in the pub and around the water cooler as a result. And that is political engagement.
If all that makes you think I am in favour of rudeness, I am not. For the simple reason that, well, it’s rude. I do think however, many who are otherwise on-the-side-of-the-angels, lose out politically because they are too careful not to cause offence. As with most things, wisdom lies in the middle ground.
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Boris Johnson image used under a Creative Commons licence.