Skip to Content

Mind your language

What kind of life-form boasts that it can ‘speak human’?

We’re not sure, but the Labour party is having trouble finding one to lead it

20 June 2015

9:00 AM

20 June 2015

9:00 AM

The next Labour leader will have to be able to speak human, said a piece in the Observer. This, it argued, is because Ed Miliband was taunted for always speaking like a policy wonk.

What short memories members of the commentariat have. In 2010 Ed Miliband was being praised by supporters on the grounds that he did ‘speak human’, unlike his technocratic brother. ‘Let us be clear: Ed M is not JFK,’ wrote Mehdi Hasan in the New Statesman in that year. ‘But he does have the all-important ability to connect with ordinary people.’ He quoted Neil Kinnock, of all people to prove it. Lord Kinnock said Ed had the ‘X factor’. Sure enough he is now the X-leader.


To speak human is a strange sort of virtue to claim. If human is a foreign language, that must mean that the person who laboriously masters it belongs to some alien life-form. ‘Deep within the shadows I’m the hungry wolf you fear/ But I can see that you’re the only evil creature here,’ sang the slightly popular ‘neo-Celtic pagan folk’ band from Holland, Omnia. ‘Because I don’t speak Human/ You can’t understand a word I’m saying.’ That can certainly be a problem. Desmond Morris, the ancient zoologist, was writing the other day about the three years he spent with a chimp called Congo. ‘I learnt to speak chimp but he never managed to utter a word of human,’ he concluded. ‘I had created a mental hybrid — an ape that thought he was a human.’ I suspect in fact that the chimp thought, if it thought at all, that Dr Morris was a chimp.

Anyway, the campaign to show that Ed had gone one better than Congo by learning to speak human faltered after four years. Last year we learnt that Mr Miliband was advertising for a new ‘head of broadcasting — to make him speak “human”,’ as the Sun reported it. Even among enthusiasts the idea could not catch fire. ‘I want someone who speaks “human”,’ said a blog on the Labour List site last month about the new race for the party leadership. So that ‘important ability to connect with ordinary people’ of 2010 was just a chimera.


Show comments
Close