'Let me be clear': These are politics' worst cliches

Therese Coffey delivers a speech in front of flags

Therese Coffey, seen delivering a speech at a G7 environmental summit, is a master of the meaningless - Credit: AFP/Getty Images

If your internal bullshit detector has been sleeping on the job lately, it's time to wake up and smell Therese Coffey.

Eyebrows were raised when the work and pensions secretary advised newly unemployed cinema workers that they had “transferrable” skills suitable for work in care homes - because scooping up a 50/50 megabucket of sweet and salty popcorn in the time it takes for an XL Tango to pour is so similar to dealing with the complex needs of dementia patients!

Yet it was Therese’s reaction to the missing Covid cases which caused listeners of Radio 4’s Today programme to spit out their coffee(y). “We cannot change the past; we can only change the future,” she intoned, leaving a nation to ponder whether the minister had been watching too many overblown death scenes in Marvel movies or buying too many of those inspirational greetings cards with sunsets and rainbows on them.

“Remember that with great power comes great responsibility, and let your light shine so brightly that others can see their way out of the dark,” she will probably say next, ending with a defiant “Wakanda forever!”

You have to give Coffey some credit, though. It takes some doing to come out with the most nebulous political statement of the month when the competition includes your own boss advising the nation to “behave fearlessly with common sense”.


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Duly inspired, I asked TNE readers to name the meaningless political phrases which wind them up the most, together with the real meanings…

“Let me be very clear” Let me waste some time before answering your question with all the clarity of Rowley Birkin QC describing the Large Hadron Collider.

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“I don’t want to pre-empt what the prime minister will say later” He hasn’t thought of it yet.

“We are where we are” Up shit creek, paddle-free.

“We have a raft of ideas” It's just behind us on the same creek, taking in water.

“I’m glad you asked me that” You bastard.

“With all due respect…” With zero respect.

“We’re introducing a package of measures” We’ve welded together a load of sub-prime guff to give the appearance of a coherent whole, like one of those groups on Little Mix: The Search.

“No-one could have predicted this” Except the people who predicted this.

“I’m sorry if...” I’m not sorry.

“Absolutely” Absolutely not.

“Now is not the time to answer that” The correct time to answer that? Thirteen o’clock on the twelfth of never.

“We’re ramping up” We’re starting to do that thing we said we’d started doing ages ago.

“Let’s face the future” Much better than facing the music.

“I think we should put this behind us and move on” Christ, I think we clipped that cyclist! Drive off quickly!

“Let’s not play the blame game” Really hope we don’t get arrested for hitting that cyclist.

“Politics is a team sport” Officer, my colleagues are to blame for hitting that cyclist.

"This is a time for quiet reflection" Enjoy prison, suckers!

“We are all in this together” And by “we” I mean “you”.

“They must learn to stand on their own two feet” They’re screwed.

“The fact of the matter is…” None of what I’m about to say is fact, and I’ve decided that doesn’t matter.

“Our long-term economic plan” Stick around for a few decades and everything will be great, trust me.

“I will be judged on my record” As long as that record is Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis, I’ll be fine

“We are listening” Mostly to Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis.

“I don’t intend to give a running commentary” Stop asking me to tell the truth.

“We will fight fire with fire” Dom says it's so much more effective than water.

“I’m deeply concerned” Principally for my job.

“We’re facing some difficult choices” To be fair, they're difficult for you, not me.

“There is no magic money tree” Apart from the one at the bottom of Rishi’s garden.

“I’ve met ordinary people up and down the country” One was a member of my party who lives in Newcastle; the other was a member of my party who lives in Newquay.

“What people on the ground are saying...” I know this because I knocked them to the ground myself.

“The opposition are sniping from the sidelines” Can you believe they’re having the temerity to oppose!

“These are not ordinary times” Although I also said this in ordinary times.

“World-beating” We have beaten the rest of the world at incompetence.

“Lessons will be learned” First lesson: Don’t get caught next time.

“At the end of the day…” Is when I’ll be free of this troublesome interview/speech, relaxing with a Scotch while you’re back in your hovel eating beans.

“We can’t change the past; we can only change the future” Stop focusing on all the things we did badly before and let us get on with doing them badly in the years to come!

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