Gordon Brown accused of 'patronising response'
Plain English Campaign supporters were ‘angered and dismayed’ by an answer at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday. Susan Kramer, MP for Richmond Park, asked Gordon Brown to withdraw the Heathrow expansion consultation document. Her call came as a result of it being declared ‘atrocious’ by Chrissie Maher, the founder of Plain English Campaign.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 October 2008 12:04
The Prime Minister responded, saying that “the consultation is there for the public to involve themselves in” and “I hope people will vigorously join the consultation”.
“This is a totally patronising response,” said Campaign spokesman Steve Jenner. “The Prime Minister just seemed to ignore the issue raised. The consultation document may be ‘there for the public to involve themselves in’ but that just isn’t good enough. Any old rubbish can be ‘there’. And that’s what this document is. Anyone who thinks this is a suitable document for public consultation is holding the public in contempt."
“How can ‘people vigorously join the consultation’ when the document looks as if it has been designed to exclude people from participating?"
“It should be possible to read, understand and act on a consultation document after one reading. I would challenge anyone to do that with this particular document. Irrespective of the rights or wrongs of the Heathrow expansion plans, consultation carried out in this way is just undemocratic."
“Once again we would urge a re – think; this document is not fit for the purpose for which it was intended. We ask the government to withdraw this document and offer a genuine consultation to interested parties.”
Maher calls for withdrawal of Heathrow consultation document
Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 October 2008 12:17
The founding director of Plain English Campaign, Chrissie Maher, has slammed the government over the Heathrow expansion consultation document. Speaking at the campaign’s headquarters in Derbyshire earlier this week, she described the document as ‘atrocious’.
Susan Kramer, MP for Richmond Park sent a copy of the document to the campaign. “This document effectively takes away human rights,” said Chrissie. “No ordinary person with an interest in the plans to expand Heathrow could be expected to read and understand this.”
Chrissie found several faults in the document, including the following:
- Excessive jargon in the summary, such as ‘periodic emissions cost assessment’ and ‘external climate change costs.’
- Huge assumptions about the reader’s knowledge of government policy.
- Jargon specific to particular professions, such as ‘net present value terms’ and ‘mixed mode operations’.
- An unclear introduction in Section A of the document.
- Section B makes use of terms which are not familiar to most people.
- Section D uses technical terminology such as ‘operation of runway rotation’.
“How can this be a true consultation if most readers cannot understand the document? We’ve seen this time and time again - local councils and government departments are always launching ‘consultations’. But they are not real consultations because they design them in such a way that most people are unable to take part.”
“After all these years of our campaigning, the Government should realise they can’t treat people with the contempt shown in the past. Unfortunately, once again we see more proof that this is not always the case. We are not ‘taking sides’ in the debate, but it is so important that in a democracy, consultations are genuine. People must have a fair chance to understand the documents put before them. Otherwise they cannot tell you what they really think.
“I am calling on the Department of Transport to withdraw and redraft this document.”
Plain English Campaign supports MP in call for war on small print
Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 October 2008 11:54
Nottinghamshire MP Dr. Nick Palmer is to call for an end to small print, and Plain English Campaign has pledged its support.
The Broxtowe MP is launching a Bill in the House of Commons on Tuesday 26 February. The Bill has attracted the backing of MPs from across the main political parties. Support also comes from a coalition of campaign groups including RNIB, Age Concern and the Trading Standards Institute.
“The scourge of small print has made life a misery for many people over the years,” said Plain English Campaign spokesman Steve Jenner. “There is absolutely no reason for it apart from making information more difficult to read. If we look at the organisations that are backing the Bill, we can see there’s a whole range of people who are affected.
“The only conclusion to draw is that when companies and organisations use small print, they don’t want us to understand.
“We’d also hope that by forcing the issue on small print, jargon and gobbledygook will also be ditched. We hope that this Bill makes companies realise that it’s time to re-edit their documents, and get rid of unnecessary small print. Even the most complicated public documents can be written in a way that people can understand.’
Steve McClaren scores another own goal with Foot in Mouth award
Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 October 2008 12:24
Unemployed Steve McClaren has received another blow while he counts his two million pound payoff. The ex-England boss has won the Plain English Campaign’s Foot in Mouth Award for this piece of footballing wisdom:
'He (Wayne Rooney) is inexperienced, but he's experienced in terms of what he's been through.'
He wins the award despite strong entries from George Bush and Jeremy Kyle.
Last year Naomi Campbell joined previous winners Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Gere and Tracey Emin as the public figure who had made the most baffling comment.
Seven Golden Bulls have been awarded this year, including one to Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains for a response from the company about problems booking online. UKTV have won one for an extremely enthusiastic press release about their new channel, ‘Dave’. In a year where silly signs seem to have dominated the news, BAA at Gatwick Airport have won a Golden Bull for a fine example.
Top comedian and TV personality Lenny Henry will present the awards at the Brewery, Chiswell Street, London EC1Y 4SD on 11 December 2007. It will be the 28th annual Plain English awards ceremony.
Winners of Plain English Awards include Liverpool Housing Trust for their ‘Pictorial Tenancy Agreement’ and Alistair Macintosh, Huart Tai Huang and Geoffrey Holden FRICS for their ‘Guide to surveyors’ jargon.’ Stockport Women’s Aid will also pick up a Plain English Award for an advice booklet.
The National School of Government and the Forestry Commission are amongst the winners for the Inside Write Awards. These are given to government departments for clear internal communication.
Media winners include the first International Media award winner, Bruce Hill from the Australian Broadcasting Company, and BBC Five Live’s Midday News which scooped ‘Best National Radio programme’. Teletext has won the Osborne Award for their contribution to plain English.
Campaign Joins Times columnist in demand for straight talk
The Times columnist Rosemary Behan savaged a handful of government ministers in her column today. And Plain English Campaign is calling on ministers to heed her words as the Campaign Awards ceremony approaches.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 October 2008 11:16
She accuses Jacqui Smith, Hazel Blears and Dawn Primarolo of ‘blathering’ and ‘mechanical, mindless drivel’. Her comments come following an interview with Jacqui Smith by John Humphrys. In answer to a question about the charging of terrorist suspects the MP said “Well, the first thing to say, John, is that these form part of a range of proposals that we put forward for consultation before the summer and we are serious about involving people in that consultation, which is why we’ve had a series of regional seminars about this, it’s why I’ve talked to the Opposition, it’s why we’ve talked to groups about these implications…”
“All politicians – and particularly those in government – should take note of the Rosemary Behan’s comments” says campaign spokesman Steve Jenner.
“Listeners will not be patronised and newspaper readers will not accept platitudes. Plain English does not mean simple and meaningless – it means clear communication. Rosemary Behan cites empty phrases like ‘moving forward’, ‘actively reaching out’, ‘progressing research’ and ‘resolve to build a consensus’ as examples of mindless politico-babble. The old saying ‘say what you mean, mean what you say and stop’ has no more important place than in government.”
The Plain English Awards ceremony takes place in London on 11 December this year. Lenny Henry will present the Campaign awards.
Plain English watchdog applauds Parliament web centre work
Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 October 2008 11:21
The Parliament Web Centre has changed the design of the Bills before Parliament pages. Plain English Campaign has scrutinised these pages
and declared them 'a great improvement'.
"This is clearly the result of testing and listening to feedback from people using these pages", said Plain English Campaign’s Steve Jenner.
"It is clear that Harriet Harman was serious when she said she wanted Parliament to communicate more clearly with the people. We applaud these efforts to make the path to reading and understanding planned legislation more straightforward."
The new pages are available at http://services.parliament.uk/bills
. The government is also inviting comments on the changes and for further suggestions: email@example.com