LEADING ARTICLE : Golly, it's John and Tony Tarantino your tongues language

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The Independent Online
SUDDENLY, political leaders are anxious not to seem nice. They wish to be blunt, to be robust, to tell it like it is. Mr Major says Labour's plans for devolution are "teenage madness". Mr Blair accuses his party's MEPs of "infantile incompetence"

. These words are mild compared with what politicians and the rest of us say when we think we are in private (Mr Major's bastards, or Richard Nixon's expletive deleted). The new departure is that they are spoken for public consumption, by two men whose nervy readiness to smile suggests that they want to be liked. Copious advice to both, however, from newspapers and spin-doctors, has stressed that niceness does not win elections. Hence they must be tough, like Samson or Andrew Neil before or after theirrespective haircuts.

It won't work, this linguistic equivalent of the arms race. Somebody always builds a bigger gun. How can Mr Blair compete, for example, with the Labour MEP for Nottingham, Ken Coates? In an interview last week, the disaffected Mr Coates said: "Bugger th e next election ... there's no relief coming because those bastards [the modernisers] are just going to walk past them [the unemployed]. I cannot tell you my contempt for those shits."

We get Mr Coates's drift. One of the unquestionable features of life in Britain, and much of the English-speaking world, over the past few decades, has been the coarsening of public language - on television, in pubs, in the street and on the printed page. It is said that one of the proudest moments in the life of Robert Gottlieb, former editor of the New Yorker, was the day in the late Eighties when he first got the f*** word into that austere magazine. Politicians, like newspapers, need to

reflect the society they serve.But they might also remember the paradox of Britain's tabloid press, which knows a thing or two about popularity. It remains remarkably prudish about language however coarse its stories. Mr Coates's words above, if they ap p eared in the Sun or the Mirror, would be rendered with dashes or asterisks. Politicians should have a care.