Public Relations

Why Theresa may be the duchess doublethink

By Andrew Eborn and Richard J. Hillgrove VI | Columnists

February 22, 2017 | 8 min read

Doublethink is the new rhetoric and Theresa May wears it well, just like her designer clothes.

Theresa May

George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four prophetically depicted a regime that used ‘newspeak’ to control thought through language and ‘doublethink’ to control thought itself.

Today we’re seeing Orwell’s vision in 3D, widescreen action. Forget Big Brother. Say hello to Big Sister, the unelected prime minister of Ingsoc – Orwell’s English Socialist party that, paradoxically, stands for totalitarianism.

Theresa May uses her image, manner and policy agenda to control, all the while presenting her party as socialist. She has recently attacked “the new global elite” while announcing a desire for a “shared society”, but society is defined by sharing. Ingsoc 2.0?

Another deliberate doublethink is her slogan “a country that works for everyone”. How does a country work for anyone when everyone has to work to survive? More May-isms include a government that’s “not out of the way” with people making the “system work for them” and the revelation that we have “responsibilities to one another”.

Then there was the announcement that she wants to “shift away from the poorest” to focus on the “ordinary people” that sit just above the poor. So what happens to the poorest? Aren’t they ordinary people, too? Let’s not forget, she doesn’t want to tackle “gross” injustices – according to her communications office – but “everyday injustices” instead. And what’s with her “quiet revolution”? How exactly do you have one of those?

It’s enough to make you go stark raving mad. But that’s the whole point. It’s what makes fingerprinting May particularly difficult.

This is the public discourse of Theresa May the Duchess of Doublethink who would be Queen – maybe. Did she deliberately refer to her British “citizens” in a recent speech rather than use the correct term “British subjects”?

Her newspeak mimics scallywag US president Donald Trump with speeches about making Britain great again. She appears happy to put up with pussy grabbing or handholding if it serves her higher purpose. In Orwell’s novel, pornography is used as the opium of the masses, so there may well be method in this madness.

The book’s significance isn’t lost on the public, meanwhile. It topped the Amazon sales charts again this year after Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts” response to explain discrepancies with the media. Authors today would bite your hand off for PR like that.

The Economist magazine recently branded her ‘Theresa Maybe’, identifying her perceived indecisiveness as a weakness. But this grey uncertainty and in-betweenness masks the reality.

President Trump isn’t the only leader on the media attack. War is being waged on both sides of the Atlantic. Here in Britain, 300 years of free press is under siege. Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 would effectively require newspapers to sign up to a State recognised regulator, putting self-regulation firmly on the spike in the Ministry of Truth.

Then there’s the Investigatory Powers Act, or Snooper’s Charter. Right now, Britain has one of the most intrusive surveillance systems of any democracy. That’s not even taking into account the phones, tablets and computers we rely on daily that can watch us 24/7. Our client Vysk Communications claims to provide the most secure way to use a mobile telecommunications device today by integrating both software and hardware privacy measures.

The government wants superfast broadband, but not so we can all play Candy Crush. Big Sister needs you to be plugged in. Welcome to The Matrix.

Orwell’s dystopian 1940s-style surveillance might have looked a bit different if he could have predicted technological advances, but his notion of perpetual war as an instrument of control was well on target as today’s ‘counter terrorism’ measures allow public agencies to look at anything you’ve done online for 12 months.

In any event the amount of personal information readily available about each and every one of us is alarming. Recent research shows that we Brits are caught on CCTV 70 times a day on average and the UK is watched by more cameras than the whole of China! Mobile phones pinpoint our exact location. Where we go, what we do and what we buy are all disclosed through the cards we use from loyalty cards, credit cards and travel cards. The world is your Oyster and your Oyster reveals your world.

Brave new world – and yet not everyone is swallowing the hallucinogenic soma. Theresa May’s arch enemy on privacy, climate change and capitalism is fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood who hits back with the slogan ‘Politicians are Criminals’. Game on.

Theresa May returns the shot by sporting her ‘lucky’ tartan Westwood trouser suit at important meetings. It’s like one big “Fuck You” as she appropriates Westwood’s strong, uncompromising style to strengthen her personal brand.

The appropriation of tartan to denote bravery in battle is a trope found through history. The Ugandan leader Idi Amin wore a kilt to announce he was conqueror of the British Empire back in 1978. Tartan translates as tough, and not just with talk.

Despite all the newspeak, a phenomenal 80% of Britons surveyed by Swiss company Artmotion did not see the prime minister as trustworthy on the issue of data security and data privacy. That’s the beauty of it. Mistrust in itself breeds fear that leads to mind-numbing control.

And if you can pepper that with Barnum statements that are vague and general enough to apply to a large range, so much the better. Tony Blair and his crew showed the way with the Labour Party’s 1997 election campaign slogan “Britain Deserves Better”. By deliberately not identifying exactly what needed to be better, they left it open for people to link the statement to their own desires. The power lies in what's left unsaid.

Using language to influence your market is nothing new in politics. It’s the lifeblood of advertising and marketing. But we’ve moved into a quantum age of newspeak and the only way to survive is to get with the programme, hone your strategy.

As our prime minister shows us, words really can change minds. Cognitive scientists have proved that words influence thought and behaviour. How you put those words together can make the difference between a water pistol and an Exocet. They don’t even have to make sense, as Donald Trump demonstrates. It’s the effect that matters.

The strategy of these leaders may seem contrary, counterintuitive or contradictory, but that’s doublethink for you. And it could be Theresa May’s deadliest weapon. Bang on! @andreweborn @OctopusTV @6Hillgrove

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