10 political words for our time

    25 February 2019


    A political device or tactic which gives the impression that a situation is better than it really is. Steve Baker resurrected this off-beat word last summer when he accused Theresa May of colluding with officials in secret to pursue a much softer Brexit than the one being touted to the public. It derives from Russian Military leader Grigory Potemkin who, in a bid to impress Empress Catherine II, purportedly created a portable village which was constructed and reconstructed at several points along the Dnieper river to make her journey to Crimea more aesthetically pleasing. Indeed, Theresa May’s Brexit deal could itself be called a Potemkin, delivering Brexit on paper but not in reality.


    (late 19C) a right-winger (as they move so slowly that moss could grow on their back). Remainers might enjoy resurrecting this one when they next roll their eyes at backbench Brexiteers. Or leavers might like to coin the term and put it to use on the Independent Group whose remain stance, they argue, harkens back to a bygone era.


    (New Zealand 1986) – a politician who discusses and debates but takes no action (from car sales where a person examines a car at length but does not buy it). One could argue there has been plenty of tyre ticking going on in Westminster over the course of Brexit.

    online sleuthing

    From the data harvesting of Cambridge Analytica to the kind of online detective work carried out by fans of the true crime genre, online sleuthing is the gathering of personal information from social media and search engines. The future of political campaigning? We’ll see.


    (1825) frequently altering one’s opinions or principles to follow trends. This is classic Jeremy Corbyn, whose Brexit stance seems to shift each week, depending on what he thinks the public wants to hear.


    (1659) one who uses shifts and evasions in argument. If the Brexit process has taught us anything about Theresa May it is that she is master of the evasive answer.


    (1586) much talk with little to say. Aside from the fact that this word is a deliciously close cousin to ‘Macron’, it’s a word that deserves more of an outing on account of it describing much of modern-day politics. Davos, anyone?

    policy wonk

    a person who develops government policy with a keen interest in technicalities and process. Increasingly used to refer to a political individual with no direct experience of the real world – as was the case when the term was applied to Ed Miliband during his spell as Labour leader.


    (mid 19C) a wooden toy figure which, when pulled by a string, jerks its limbs about (used of a pseudo-politician, one who strings are pulled by somebody else rather than their constituents). MPs sceptical about Olly Robbins – an impartial civil servant – and the role he has purportedly played in steering Theresa May’s Brexit agenda might like to add this word to their quiver. As with all the best insults, it has the added appeal of being satisfying to say – a sure-fire way of getting rid of all that Brexit angst.


    (UK slang 2005) a carefully created seating plan which places an ideal group of MPs (women, photogenic individuals, ethnic minorites etc.) around a leader for the ideal television shot – look no further than conference season for evidence of this one.