IT might well be the case that a picture paints a thousand words, but it is equally true that a few well-chosen words will ensure you a place in the history books. From Socrates and Plato, through to Disraeli and Churchill, there are some wonderful quotes which have stood the test of time.
From pithy putdowns to brutal brickbats, one never ceases to marvel at the rich and varied language that we have at our disposal. There is, it seems, always a mot juste ripe for any occasion.
But words, overused, satisfy the warning that familiarity breeds contempt. Estate agents epitomise this when every property, however unassuming, is garlanded with superlatives such as stunning, striking, impressive or magnificent.
What a pity therefore that what passes for public debate now is largely mired in repetitive and banal soundbites; long gone are memorable rhetorical flourishes – Ann Widdecombe’s ‘something of the night’ springs to mind. Today we endure bland, no doubt uncontroversial, instantly forgettable homilies.
Readers will be only too familiar with the trite responses oozing out of politicians’ mouths. Media inquisitors (if they can really be called that) are also guilty of complacency and a lack of originality when it comes to holding individuals to account. Is it just my age, or were Robin Day, Brian Walden, Ludovic Kennedy and David Frost cut from a very different cloth than today’s practitioners?
For me, there is one axiom regularly trotted out which symbolises the hopelessness of certain institutions and departments. It is not, as some readers might assume, John Reid’s ‘not fit for purpose’, which quickly became the portmanteau maxim for anything or anybody deemed useless.
No, the expression that has me reaching for the pearl-handled revolver and bottle of single malt is ‘lessons will be learnt’.
There was a time when this four-word declamation seemed to attach itself exclusively to the tragic domain of children failed by the state. It ran in tandem with its close cousins, ‘they were on the radar’ or ‘known to authorities’. After every cruel and often avoidable death of a child, we had to witness some hapless local authority functionary face the TV cameras to recite a mealy-mouthed mea culpa which was not complete without the obligatory ‘lessons will be learnt’ mantra.
Victoria Climbié, Finley Boden, Baby P, Daniel Pelka, Sebastian Kalinowski and, in a case dealt with only this month, Alfie Steel, were all defenceless children who needed protection and were let down at every turn by the State. The details of these sickening cases, the unimaginable suffering, are too ghastly to contemplate. Yet the officials involved, no doubt richly steeped in ideological dogma, were so unbelievably stupid that they could not see, or did not want to see, what was happening.
What currency does the phrase ‘lessons will be learnt’ have? After these appalling killings – and regrettably there will be more – all we are given are hollow words. If this hackneyed, trite and inappropriate phrase had any value, we would no longer have to read these heartrending reports. What grates most is that it is self-evident that lessons most certainly have not been learnt, and in most instances, never will be.
This worthless expression, now used frequently and equally emptily for terrorist atrocities alongside ‘we will never give in’, seems to sum up government in general. No longer able to do anything effective whatsoever, they busily engage themselves in displacement activity such as Net Zero and gender politics, topics of scant interest to most of the population struggling with debt.
When Great Britain plc finally expires under the weight of its own absurdity, contradictions and folly, one can only hope that the overlooked people unite as one and scream loudly: ‘Lessons will be learnt’.