The New Language of New Britain – 25 Years On

I thought it might be interesting, even informative, to look back from our post-Brexit, post-COVID vantage point in early 2023 to a time before a culture of impunity had become embedded, a time when there still seemed to be a consensus across political persuasions that competence was a first requirement of whoever was elected to govern Britain, (but a time, too, in which there was a feeling among many that profound changes were overdue). In 1997 I made a series of programmes for BBC World Service Radio, looking at how emerging words and phrases seemed to embody novel attitudes on the part of the British. The broadcasts were aimed at listeners outside the UK, although at that time also accessible inside the territory.

The first in a series of short programmes looked at the language of New Labour, at perceptions of a closer relationship between its politicians and what is now called the mainstream media and at the role of the spin doctors (one of the very new formulations heard in those days) responsible for what is now called comms and messaging and for negotiating that rapprochement.

I was fortunate to be able to draw upon insights from Derek Draper, at that time one of New Labour’s highest placed political advisors and lobbyists, journalist and columnist Julia Hobsbawm and writer and critic Peter Bradshaw. Our conclusions were at that time revealing, I think, even if now the notions and the behaviour we were looking at and the terminology that accompanied them have become commonplace.

These recordings were lost for many years, and I am very grateful, both to my then-producer Colin Babb for recovering some of them, and to Urban Mrak who has managed to restore and re-record a small selection of the damaged tapes. The first of them can be accessed here, although the first few seconds during which we listened in the studio to reiterations of the ‘New Labour, New Britain’ mantra are missing…

In the following days I will add two more of these short recordings, dealing, respectively, with the idea that late-90s Britain was experiencing an upsurge in aggressive, selfish behaviour, typified by the new concept of ‘road rage‘, and an increase in female assertiveness caricatured as ‘girl power‘.

Derek Draper

Julia Hobsbawm

Peter Bradshaw