Tamsin Constable

When a Fox is a weasel

Here is a cracking example of how people use the passive to avoid taking responsibility. It comes courtesy of Liam Fox, theUK’s ex-defence secretary, who resigned last week as a result of allegations of conflicts of interest between his public and private life. In a statement he said:

‘I accept that it was a mistake to allow distinctions to be blurred between my professional responsibilities and my personal loyalties to a friend.’

Writing in the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland was incensed:

‘Fox did not say: “I blurred the distinction.” Instead, by using the passive, he picked up his offence with a pair of sterilised tongs, sealed it in a plastic bag and placed it as far away from himself as he could. That use of the passive turned his sin from one of commission to omission. “You know what distinctions are like,” he was saying. “They’re always itching to be blurred. My error was not to stop them.” I had a flatmate back in my student days who, rather than admit he’d not done the washing-up, would say: “Dishes have been left.” The passive is grammar’s way of telling you somebody is hiding something. [my emphasis]

As if that weren’t enough, see whether you can get your head round another of Fox’s statements. Asked whether his friend profited from the relationship, Fox said: “When it comes to the pecuniary interests of Mr Werritty in those conferences, I am absolutely confident that he was not dependent on any transactional behaviour to maintain his income.”

Weasel alert!

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