One of the few sources of levity in Labour’s General Election campaign has been the mangled metaphors of Peter Mandelson. On Monday (26th April) he told party members that Gordon Brown was “a workhorse at the helm” – an alarming equine captain for the ship of state. Earlier, Mandelson praised Brown’s “granite-like resilience”, although granite is anything but resilient.
In the same communication to party members, he suggested that the Tories had “underlined a key plank” of Labour’s policy. Planks are sometimes underpinned, but it is difficult and usually pointless to underline them. He then suggested that the economy was on a bumpy road to recovery and the Tories would pull the rug from under it – an evident trailer for Labour’s new plan to create jobs by carpeting the M1.
Mandelson’s miscellany is not only a wonderful collection of mixed metaphors, but a vivid illustration of the moribund cliche. “Workhorse” and “helm”, at the end of their long lives, have lost almost all their vital spark as metaphors. But placed next to each other they come back to life and protest against the other’s company.