I have been report writing again lately. I say again, because that was part (the boring bit to be honest) of what I used to do for a living. I had some nice things said about my reports in the past, by people who read a lot of them and should be able to offer a criticism from a position of experience and knowledge. I had some less nice things said at times as well, but usually by people who didn’t want to hear what the report said, rather than how I said it.
I never had the pleasure of writing for Mr Gove. Although I have never knowingly used the word ‘impact’ when I meant effect, or ‘impacted’ when I meant affected and wasn’t referring to a wisdom tooth, my cavalier, not to say wilfully disrespectful, attitude to split infinitives would not have endeared either of us to each other.
The reports I have been writing have been very different in terms of subject matter from the ones I used to write. The agonies of getting just the right word to convey the nuances of what I want the reader to take from them remain however. (I suppose Govey would get exercised by that as well, or is it just its use at the beginning of sentences that he gets all het up about?)
I wonder if it will be worth it in the event, or would my readers take the message they want from the report, however I sugar the pill, bite the bullet, tell it like it is or distract them with pretty language. I am sure that most of the senior civil servants who read my reports were more aware of the spin a particular emphasis here and there put on a subject. I am not sure politicians were so receptive. For a cohort so obsessed with spin and answering the question they have rehearsed and not that being asked, they can be remarkably fixed in their views on subjects regardless of the evidence. If you want to get a point across to a politician a lump hammer is the tool of choice rather than the delicately worded sub-clause most of the time, although I did try. Write them a report pointing out that a policy that has been running for 50 years has singularly not only failed, but massively exacerbated the problem it designed to deal with and helped wreck society into the bargain, and you will be ignored. No, I had nothing to do with the reports about the ineffectiveness of UK (‘borrowed’ from/forced on us by, the USA) anti drug policy. I do wonder why they bothered commissioning expert opinion if they knew what they wanted to do anyway.
The merits of the different approaches to drug abuse/control are not my point however. My point is that you can assemble all the expert evidence you like, but if a politician thinks it isn’t in his/her short term interest you are going to have great difficulties writing the report in a way that will get them to even read it, much less take heed its findings.
I am not suggesting that the people I have been writing for are that fixed in their opinions and I know at least one person is waiting with bated breath for one of the works of genius that have flowed from by keyboard. I do wonder however if participative democracy is always what it is cracked up to be. The committed minority will always get involved. Their commitment means that they are unlikely to change their minds whatever they read. Is this a good thing? Do we admire strength of conviction over an open mind? Politics suggests we do. Politics suggests we prefer charismatic leaders, no matter how vapid or maniacal their actions, to inclusive thinking leaders who sound out what the people want first.
I will offer my reports, definitely NOT party political in any shape or form, and hope I am wrong. But just in case my cynicism is well founded, there are some nuances and sub-clauses I picked up writing for politicians included. No lump hammer required.