Oct 192014

Gib border

The border between Spain and Gibraltar, crossed daily by over 10,000 workers, without whom the Gibraltarian economy would collapse – a fine example of the benefits of free movement of labour in the EU.

Back in the UK, the Conservative party, traumatised by the populist appeal of the anti-Brussels UKIP party, is now seeking to undermine the free-movement principle, one of the core principles on which the EU was founded.

Outgoing commissioner José Manuel Barroso pointed out on UK TV earlier today that David Cameron’s government had previously asked him to enforce that very free-movement principle between Spain and Gibraltar.

Rather than giving in to UKIP, the Conservative party should be banging the drum about the benefits of unfettered trade across Europe. We should not forget that the Single Market was a huge achievement for the UK. It persuaded the continental countries that free-market principles should prevail over top-down statism. Free movement of goods, services, capital and labour is fundamental to that market. Are we really saying that having created it we’re now going to ditch one of its core principles? Are we really going to tell our businesses that under a points system they have to get government permission to recruit? And why do we assume that our unilateral brake on free movement will not be reciprocated? Why wouldn’t France, Spain or Italy curb our rights to settle in their countries? Why wouldn’t Germany or the Netherlands prevent us from opening a local subsidiary to test the market?

The pro-free-enterprise, pro-European wing of the Conservative party needs to find its voice quickly and get back into the debate.

Oct 172014
The English subjunctive has become an endangered species. In the UK it clings tenuously to life. Writers seem no longer to understand the notion of mood. The semantic benefits of the subjunctive are being lost. A couple of weeks ago I came across this article in The Economist which highlighted the value of the English subjunctive. I tweeted a link to the article and was amazed to trigger a flood of retweets. It clearly struck a chord with other linguists. I even began to be followed by ‘Subjunctive Mood’ (@IfIwerejudgingU), a Twitter account that roams the Twittersphere with a linguistic cosh, clobbering malfeasant writers and pointedly retweeting their posts with ‘was’ changed to ‘were’, etc. The BBC (bless) no longer seems able to handle the subjunctive. Yesterday I heard ‘he recommends that it is’. Combinations such as ‘it be’ are avoided. Writers instead use a straight indicative or some fuzzy circumlocution involving ‘should’. It’s a huge shame, but scarcely surprising given that many English schools have prided themselves on neglecting formal grammar since the 70s. I’ll carry on boldly using the English subjunctive in my translations, but I’m quite sure that usages such as ‘it be’ will increasingly be queried and, alas, actually deprecated.