IT'S ABOUT . . .

Among the verbal tics infesting contemporary society, one seems to have slipped in without anyone passing comment. At least as prevalent as You know what?..." (the prefacing remark of every belligerent person on television, including all  X Factor panellists) is the formulaic It's about...", sometimes varied to It's all about...". This has become the way a whole generation of public spokespeople automatically frames its arguments. You hear it from primary school headmistresses (Real education isn't about exam results: it's about giving children confidence"), Hampton Court Palace curators (It's all about displaying wealth... the differing brickwork is about emphasising class distinctions"), media historians, trade unionists and politicians.

From New Labour architect Peter Mandelson's speech at LSE, 2009:

It would not be right to turn the remarkable and necessary period of catch-up in public service provision over which Labour has presided into some kind of eternal doctrine: that social democracy is about high growth in public spending for its own sake... Politics is about elaborating alternatives...”

From PM David Cameron speech's to the Conservative Party conference 2010:

The big society is not about creating cover for cuts... It’s about government helping to build a nation of doers and go-getters... Fairness isn’t just about who gets help from the state... This is not about a bit more power for you and a bit less power for central government... And no, we’re not about self-interest either... Britain’s reputation is not just about might. It’s about doing what is right.”

From Labour Party leader Ed Miliband's speech on a ‘new economy’, 2011:

The change we need is about the rules of the system, it is about the culture of shareholding, it is about the norms our society expects.”

From a Mandelson speech on globalisation, March 2011:

The ‘new activism’ I initiated as Business Secretary is about building the capability of business...”

From Mayor of London and political journalist Boris Johnson's speech to the Conservative Party conference 2011:

...we all know it is not just about numbers...everything we do is about putting the village back into the city.."

From Deputy PM and Liberal-Democrat leader Nick Clegg's speech on tax cuts, January 2012:

This is about fairness in the middle. More money in the pockets of the people who need it.”

No-one used to reach for this sloppy, dumb-down formulation. People spoke both more plainly and more eloquently. It's unnecessary rhetorical goo. Boris Johnson could have said We want to put the village back into the city." Clegg could have said We aim for fairness in the middle." Mandelson could have said Politics elaborates alternatives."

Churchill's first speech to parliament as Prime Minister, 13 May 1940, included this:

I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.’ We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.
            You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.
            You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.”

He did not say It's all about blood, toil, tears and sweat." He didn't say Our policy is all about waging war..." or Our aim is all about victory..." And the following month (4 June) he did not say this: It's all about fighting on the beaches, about fighting on the landing grounds, about fighting in the fields and in the streets, about fighting in the hills; it's all about never surrendering.”

Similarly, a generation later and a continent away, Martin Luther King Jr, speaking at the March on Washington DC on 8 August 1963, felt no need to declare: I have a dream  - it's about how one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’... I have a dream  - it's about how my four little children will one day live in a nation where it won't be about the color of their skin but about the content of their character.”

It's about... time we shouted these people down.


  1. Mr Dylan what are your songs about?

  2. Only Alfie knows.

  3. And now M&S have windows full of stickers using this vacuous format: and see their webpage http://www.marksandspencer.com/Its-All-About-Mens/b/1570965031

    Apparently "It's All About

    The Cotton V Neck Jumper
    The Pure Cotton Shirt
    British Fabrics
    The Performance Suit
    The Flat Front Cord
    The Stripe Rugby
    The Cotton Polo
    The Patterned Shirt
    The Smart Jacket".

    Oh mercy...

  4. Well, the New Lost City Ramblers did play that old song that went "It's all about that Battleship of Maine." And then there's the Stagger Lee song, where it's "all about that John B. Stetson hat." It's not a new thing. On the other hand, the ironic conceit of both songs is that it was, in fact, never about the Battleship Maine nor a Stetson hat at all. So, whenever I hear what it's all about - dat bass, say, or WMD - I always think of the Battleship Maine.