Actually, make that two rules. You should also never trust a politician who says, “Let me be very clear”.
Anyone who begins a statement with the word “frankly” is signalling that whatever he or she is about to say (it’s usually a he) is fearless or radical.
Moreover, “frankly” is superfluous, since we’re entitled to assume that the person always speaks frankly – or in other words, honestly.
To put it another way, use of the word could be regarded as implying that everything else he/she says should be regarded as insincere. Which may be true.
“Let me be very clear” falls into a similar category. It too denotes boldness and decisiveness.
Someone who says “Let me be very clear” is not to be trifled with. Nothing will shift them from their principled position.
Again, alas, they are likely to have forgotten within days, if not hours, what it was that they were making themselves very clear about.
What prompted this reflection was a commentary by Tova O’Brien in which she referred to an interview she did last week on TodayFM (yes, it’s still on the air, though its audience is now possibly numbered in the hundreds) with Christopher Luxon.
The subject was Posie Parker. We won’t bother with O’Brien’s opinion of the British women's rights activist, other than to say it demonstrates that we shouldn’t assume someone who made her name as an aggressive political journalist is necessarily a sharp or original thinker.
The exchange with Luxon was, however, revealing. National's leader has provided a masterclass in equivocation on the rather important question of free speech and he wasn’t going to allow O’Brien to pin him down.
"Would you allow your MPs to attend Posie Parker’s rally?" O’Brien asked.
"I haven't had that conversation with them, I couldn't imagine there will be many that would be very interested in it," Luxon responded.
O’Brien persisted. "But are you going to be blocking your MPs from attending her speech?"
Luxon: "That's a decision they can make individually, frankly, but I can't see that there will be anyone that would be that interested.”
There it is – that “frankly” word. But what does it mean? Nothing. In fact worse than nothing. It implies he’s saying something meaningful when the exact reverse is true.
I don’t know whether Luxon has ever said “Let me be very clear”, but I’d put money on it.
Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of The Dominion newspaper. He blogs at karldufresne.blogspot.co.nz.