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Mind your language

Why do politicians go potty for ‘passion’?

And do they mean it in the Dear Deidre sense?

18 April 2015

9:00 AM

18 April 2015

9:00 AM

‘I long for spontaneous passion but I will never get it with my husband because I think he has Asperger syndrome,’ wrote a reader of the Sun to Deidre last week. I noticed this because the leading article in The Spectator earlier this month said that David Cameron needs ‘more passion’. It was right, of course. Deidre’s reply suggested that ‘specific requests could help him, such as “Please give me a cuddle in bed”.’ I don’t know if a similar suggestion has been made to Mr Cameron. But Tony Blair said in his recent speech: ‘I believe passionately that leaving Europe would leave Britain diminished.’ Does believing passionately that something would happen count as having passion? Is it a question of kicking the kitchen bin every time you think of Britain leaving Europe?

There is a lot of passion about among the succeeding classes. That fireman who won The Voice on television had developed ‘a passion for music’ as a teenager. The witty Alex Massie pointed out the other day that ‘all politicians say education is their passion’. Samantha Cameron told the Sun: ‘I’m a Tory because I’m passionate about business’. None of these enthusiasms are the passion of Deidre’s cuddling realm.


We are accustomed to running several meanings with the same word, keeping each meaning insulated. In Through the Looking Glass, the Tiger-Lily, Humpty-Dumpty and Tweedledum all flew into a passion. The passion was anger. But the grammarians used to call passive verbs ‘verbs of passion’, even if they suffered equably. Before Easter I went to a performance of The St Matthew Passion. Even the worldly Samuel Pepys bought a print of the Passion of Jesus. These different senses flourish with little risk of confusion.

John Betjeman said that the sight as a boy of the church tower at Belaugh, Norfolk, ‘gave me a passion for churches’. This became the title of a television programme in 1974. He did have such a passion, and could communicate it too, even though he did not fall into a rage or tremble with lust on camera. So if Mr Cameron is to heed advice, he must do more than say he is passionate, but he needn’t shout or bang his fist.


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