The Wheels on the Bus

While playground politics trundle on, let’s revert to an old favourite and arguably where the present penchant for political misdirection started to grow arms and legs.

You’ve got it – the big, red, Brexit bus and those now infamous words:

We send the EU £350m a week / let’s fund our NHS instead

When Vote Leave made the bus pledge, Johnson was Mayor of London and a backbench MP. So even if it were a gross whopper, the lumpy, loose bag of warring albinos had no mandate to make any governmental budgetary promises. Believing such a statement would have been akin to swallowing what Rod Stewart or Bruce Forsyth had to say on the matter.

But down in one it went.

Most tragic of all, the campaign leader for Stronger in Europe – and the serving PM who was the big cheese in situ – could not get his act together. But that was not entirely Dave’s bad – the words on that bus were a marketing masterpiece, borne out of a mastery of grammar and structural techniques. So, tricky for a former marketing director to handle (wink).

And here’s how it hit the mark and turned over the less-than-sharp tools in the purportedly Stronger box. Let’s wind back to the words themselves. These were in fact two separate statements rather than being one single, unified pair of clauses. The first stated that we were sending £350m per week to the EU. Not that we were spending that amount. Just that we were sending it.

And now to the facts. The UK’s gross contribution to the EU in 2016 was £18.9bn, which with a simple calculation was more than £360m per week.

The actual expenditure was less, at £13.9bn, owing to a rebate in place since the mid-1980s. This therefore equated to £266m per week actually spent.

So, sending £350m was inaccurate only in terms of its understatement. Who’d have thunk it? If the verb chosen had been spend, the accurate number would have been £266m.

But the bus unequivocally mentioned send and not spend.

Slippery buggers, weren’t they? And it was for this reason that Cameron’s campaign team were floundering with this mercurial syntax, and why all feckless attempts at private prosecution (nun’s-piss-weak that they in any event were) later bit the dust.

Now to the second statement, and we should principally note that there is no conjunction that links the two sentences. I know – boring grammar, but it is crucial.

The bus never displayed, ‘we send £350m to the EU, so let’s use that all money to fund the NHS’. The juxtaposition of the two was however implying that instead of spunking up £350m over to the continent, we could instead fund the NHS with an unspecified portion of that money. Note that the ‘let’s fund’ was a jaunty suggested invitation to accept the NHS as a preferred beneficiary of funds, and not the whole £350 mil. Based on the words used, we cannot attribute any greater specificity to the line.

Furthermore, there was no full stop at the end of either sentence, and the L at the start of the second sentence was not capitalised. In fact, not only was there an absence of any connecting device between them, but neither was a completed sentence per se.

Clever, clever stuff.

The absence of sentence punctuation wonderfully opened up creative possibilities for the personalised attribution of meaning by anyone and everyone. A few tasty ingredients but no pudding and therefore no proof in it.

For those who wanted the two sentences to be connected, which built the meaning that they wished to read, the functional words were not required. They could read and interpret as was their wont.

Chuck in the emotive juice of our NHS (making it more personal to uswe who are in this together), and it was always going to pique interest across the social spectrum.

But those interpretations could never make the grade as anything more concrete than pure imagination laced with the intoxicating spirits of wishful thinking.

And that failure to be grammatically cloudy was the bear trap into which every post-fact, emotional fruitcake tumbled in 2016 and continues to do so now.

In that bracket, you can place moronic Leavers who imagined the ‘truth’ and psycho-Remainers who imagined – and still imagine – the ‘lie’.

Their own minds played the decisive trick. How fiendishly brilliant and devastatingly ironic to boot.

And it is this weakness that has allowed the worst government in living memory to maintain its strength while inflicting unopposed damage on the fabric and structures of the UK. So much of what we interpret as ‘lies’ are in fact deft sidesteps, legitimised by clever manoeuvring and verbal forks in the road.

Check out the current, mid-shitshow, neck-and-neck polls to see just how strong. At this stage, sane and balanced administrations, hamstrung by unpopular, remedial decisions are typically eight points adrift.

Nice work, Sir Keith.

Whether we are talking vaccines or level playing fields, the opposition picks the wrong battles and latches onto all the nebulous hooks for these practised shapeshifters to wriggle on and off, and through the distraction, gross scandals like cronyist COVID procurement don’t just roll, they blossom exponentially.

Don’t worry about the bamboozling livery on the bodywork – Johnson and the gang are driving a big red bus right through the spot where serious politics once was.

The wheels on the bus go round and round / All ’round the town.

While the road to ruin remains drenched in centre-lefty tears, that bus has emerged as the genius model that is shaping the future.

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