‘Can we stop calling it a coup? Try living in a country where there is actually a coup.’
Our dictionaries contain over 170,000 words so, if we really want to, we can always find one that won’t cause offence. That’s why this comment made me pause to wonder whether ‘coup’ is the best we can do after all.
With the exception of some Tweeters who mistakenly urged one another to put the brakes on their sexy 70s sportscars #stopthecoupe, the use of such a dramatic word is of course no accident . But is it responsible or accurate? Am I guilty of the bias that sees us excuse the weaknesses and hypocrisies of the people and ideas we support?
According to Google a coup is ‘a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government’. And you could argue that this isn’t strictly true in the prorogation of our Parliament.
It remains to be seen whether the courts decide the suspension of Parliament is lawful or not. It could be weeks before we know the final outcome of all three cases being brought in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Your opinion of ‘coup’ might also depend on your definition of violence. Our largely unwritten constitution is being exploited and violated in a sick game of ‘Who Dares, Wins’ (and let’s be clear that the most important outcome for some members of our government appears to be only that they win). But before we follow up with a round of ‘Who Cares, Loses’ it stands true that in recent weeks, despite the metaphorical low-blows of Johnson’s attempts to label Corbyn a ‘chicken’, there have been no actual punches landed.
The current state of our politics would have us believe that ‘seizing power’ is open to interpretation too. Some Leave-supporting MPs and voters appear to be sure that ‘taking back control’ from the unelected Eurocrats, and reinstating the sovereignty of our Parliament involves… suspending Parliament…
A bit like our definition of ‘democracy’, the accuracy of the word ‘coup’ feels entirely dependent on interpretation.
But, really, these days? Who cares about accuracy anyway? Meaningless political rhetoric has become the norm – we should all be in no doubt that Leave means Leave, even though there was nothing on the ballot paper that explained what version of Leaving people were voting for; a doctor who was part of the planning to mitigate the risk of No Deal has been accused of fear-mongering by the Leader of the House of Commons; and people on Boris Johnson’s side of the fence seem to care very little – allegedly they like it – when they are lied to again and again and again.
In this atmosphere, whether this power-grab is technically a coup or not is one argument that barely seems worth the energy.
A bit like ‘No Deal is better than a Bad Deal’ the phrase #stopthecoup is not supposed to be taken at face-value. It is designed to capture in as few characters as possible (thanks again, Twitter) a general feeling, a catchy chant, an approximation of an idea. If you want a more nuanced world view, go read a book.
But perhaps this is taking the low road – a hypocritical climbdown from the usual leftie snowflake insistence that #wordsmatter. So just as I was resigning myself to eternal whataboutery, imagine my relief when late last night came one last rumble, and in rolled Speaker Bercow driving a Fiat.
“It is not typical. It is not standard. It’s one of the longest for decades and it represents, not just in the minds of many colleagues, but huge numbers of people outside, an act of executive fiat.”
According to Collins Dictionary (Oxford is out of favour. Thanks to unfortunate associations with a club starting with B and ending in -ullingdon, copies now surely deserve a *Trigger Warning* dust cover), a fiat is a government decree. But as our language apes our Prime Minister and goes (pro)rogue (sorry), it slips off the page and takes on alternative meanings.