I was briefly flattered the other day to receive an e-mail from the General Medical Council asking me whether I could be its Chair (meaning Chairman). Then I realised that it was a circular, not an actual invitation to me personally: it had, presumably, been sent to everyone on its e-mailing list.
What were the duties of the Chairman? The first of them, and presumably the most important, was to ‘set and deliver the GMC’s corporate strategy.’ Clearly the successful candidate for the job would have to speak, and perhaps even think in, fluent langue de bois, for only such a person could work with people capable of employing such a phrase. Perhaps a few years of experience as a speechwriter from the late Leonid Brezhnev would be an advantage. At any rate, the GMC’s e-mail convinced me yet further that, contrary to received opinion, the Soviet Union won the Cold War hands down, culturally at any rate. It turned the world Soviet.
Does one deliver a strategy? I suppose one might devise a strategy and deliver a written copy of it to someone with the power to approve or disapprove it: but delivery surely requires a recipient. I assume (but cannot be certain) that the GMC meant ‘carry out.’ One of the important functions of imprecision of language is that it conferring greater and more arbitrary powers on regulatory bodies that employ it.
When the GMC says that the function of the new Chairman will be to set its corporate strategy (whether a statutory regulatory body ought to have something called a ‘corporate strategy’ is another question entirely), it is in effect lying, or at any rate misleading candidates. A strategy has already been laid down for the years until 2017, by which the new chairman will have only one more year to serve. What the GMC might have meant (I am trying now to be charitable) was that the new Chairman would implement the current strategy and set future strategy: but why did it not say so? Why must the meaning of everything it says be seen as through a glass darkly?
In its strategy until the year 2017, the GMC says ‘We are committed to excellence in everything we do.’ Since much of what the GMC publishes is written in Newspeak, this is either a lie or it has no judgment at all: either way it is not what it would no doubt call ‘fit for purpose.’