“I wish her well”: a guide to Westminster’s secret language

    26 November 2020

    An Apology

    An apology is a series of words strung together to absolve one of sins committed in private or in one’s professional life, usually uncovered by a newspaper, which allows one to carry on one’s duties as if nothing had happened, and very often to repeat the sins for which one has apologised.  It needn’t be sincere — indeed, that is considered rather poor form — and it is only ever to be used as a measure of last resort. If in doubt, simply apologise for how you have made someone feel rather than the action itself.

    “I wish them well”

    An expression that loosely translates as “May God damn your eyes and banish you to the frozen wastes of Murmansk for the wrongs you have done me,” unless uttered by Donald Trump, in which case you should really start to worry.

    “Once in a generation”

    A Scottish expression meaning a period of time lasting no longer than 17 minutes.

    “A pleasure to work with”

    A deranged individual not be left alone with scissors, let alone their own department.

    “Level up”

    The process by which one improves something by dragging it kicking and screaming to a higher standard of being. If this proves too difficult, a similar effect can be achieved by dragging everything else kicking and screaming down to its level instead. This explains why that particular MP whose cabinet position has always baffled you is still in the cabinet.


    A special advisor. Special being the operative word, and whose advice is therefore best ignored.

    “This is strictly off the record”

    A surefire sign that what is about to be revealed is particularly boring.


    This once meant a scandal or something that might be considered unpopular among members of the public. Now it stands for something that the wider public either agree with or actively engage in, but that is disliked by the Guardian.


    Shorthand for ‘confected outrage,’ this is something that you do in the strongest possible terms when the other lot are caught doing something you yourself were forced to issue an apology for doing not two weeks earlier.


    A secret aspiration you harbour for yourself but treat with scorn and suspicion when found in others. Often denoting the approval of the common man, it is therefore considered rather a vulgar thing to have if you are a Labour leader.


    A common byword for insanity. Witness David Cameron’s labelling of David Davis’s decision to resign from his seat and stand again in the ensuing bi-election in 2008.


    To be void of conviction. Generally adopted whenever a cabinet reshuffle is due.


    An archaic mechanism once practiced by those found to have committed acts or uttered sentences considered untoward, to save themselves further ignominy and their peers from an even worse fate known as an ‘inquiry’. To the common man, a resignation means you never plan on returning to the job you have left. To the Member of Parliament it is an opportunity for reinvention.

    “An anonymous source”

    Dominic Cummings

    “Friends of the Prime Minister”

    Carrie Symonds


    In theory, a word representing an end point; in reality, to be interpreted much the same way as the FA Cup Final — subject to reruns again and again until you eventually get your way.


    A nice idea.


    A good character-building exercise, though with no guarantee it will build a good character.

    Common sense

    Something you sense may be a little too common, and therefore best avoided.


    Derived from Watergate, it’s a suffix the Westminster bubble likes to attach to any scandal they consider as major or career-ending: think Theresa May’s Trousergate or Jeremy Corbyn’s Traingate. To the rest of us, it’s a code word for an event that will have no impact whatsoever on voters outside of SW1.