George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was at in Kent yesterday making a speech about welfare reform. He was speaking to workers from Morrison's supermarket at one of their regional distribution centres. A standard political set-piece event, staged mainly for the six o'clock news. But something strange happened to his voice. Instead of his clipped and somewhat posh accent, he said "wanna', "Briddish" and dropped many a "T" from his words. It was quite bizarre, like hearing Prince Charles trying to rap.
What was he thinking? The answer is that he probably wasn't. Changing our speech pattern in different environments is something most of us do. It's known as communication accommodation, and is a well-documented phenomenon. It's particularly noticeable in people whose accents have changed after living a long way from their birthplace, who suddenly revert to their original tones when speaking to friends and family who stayed put.
For most people, it's not a problem, since it's often not noticed, or seen as being "just one of those things". For a politician, however, it's much more of an issue. If Mr Osborne is regarded as deliberately changing his accent to appeal to a certain group, it can be seen as false (an attribute many people associate with politicians anyway). It would be sensible for him, and other politicians, to make a conscious effort to keep the same accent at all times. I'm sure his advisors will have pointed this out to the Chancellor, and I suspect we won't hear him doing it again. Funny old world, innit?