As you know, I normally rant on here about matters that concern the law and legal practice. But this post is all about my worries concerning the English Language. Firstly, I need to declare an interest. I am a grammar pedant. A misplaced apostrophe can keep me awake at night. In a sense this is very relevant to lawyers. Understanding language can be critical.

But there is a real problem with the use of my first language in political discussions.

Most of the time, a simple sentence is easily understood by all. If I say –

‘I am going to the Co-Op to buy some coffee’,

there is no need for further elaboration. We know who I am talking about…’I’, we know what I am doing ‘going to the Co-Op’ and we know the purpose of the action ‘to buy some coffee’.

Now a person who speaks a different language will need a translation. So I might follow up the statement to a French person with – ‘Je vais au Co-Op pour acheter du café’. The original words require further comment to help the listener understand.

Which brings me to the current debate about the Prime Ministers obviously incorrect statement about Keir Starmer and his time as DPP. During last week’s PMQs he said these words –

“this leader of the opposition, a former Director of Prosecutions. He spent most of his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Saville”

That is fairly clear. He was talking about Sir Keir, the person who is indeed leader of the opposition and former Director of Prosecutions’. To clear up any possible confusion he went on to say – “He spent most of his time…” (My emphasis). Most English language users can understand this statement. It does not require further ‘clarification’.

But, because they were said by a political leader who is in trouble, the English words suddenly require a translation. On Monday 7th February Boris Johnson said that he was not intending to comment on the performance of Sir Keir himself but the overall failing of the CPS – even though he had used the words ‘He spent most of his time’. It is as if the words that we all heard and understood require translation into the language of convenience.

Supporters of Mr Johnson have gathered round to muddy the waters even further. On BBC Breakfast today, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Tech and the Digital Economy, denied that the PM needed to apologise but conceded that ‘the comments were capable of being misconstrued’. Isn’t that the same as saying that my words about the Co-Op could be taken to mean a trip to Sainsburys to buy some milk?

Commentators don’t help. They say – ‘The PM has clarified what he meant’. But it was clear in the first place.

It really is confusing. We speak English. We hear words. We know exactly what they mean. But then we are told that in fact they meant something different. It is a bit like studying a Salvador Dali painting as a basis for understanding the construction of clocks.

If the PM genuinely didn’t mean what he said, he should just say sorry. In the meantime we have the grotesque chaos of a leader of the opposition being placed in personal danger by a gang of protesters who heard the clear words that were used and believed them..