From ULEZ to fuckpigs: Westminster’s words of 2023

LONDON — What’s in a word?

Turns out, quite a bit. Westminster’s finest politicos found themselves frantically Googling this year as they tried to get their heads around a whole bunch of words they had never heard before. No, not “integrity,” “honesty” and “compassion” — but a host of weird and wonderful constructions that would have seemed entirely alien 12 months ago.

POLITICO rounded up the best of them, as a treat. Parental advisory: Swearing is big, clever and cool.

De-banking

Pronunciation guide: diː-ˈbæŋkɪŋ

Definition: The closure of an account by banks who perceive the holder to pose a financial, legal, regulatory, or reputational risk to the bank. Or all four, in Nigel Farage’s case. 

Context: The former Brexit Party leader found himself in a big fight with Coutts when the luxury bank canceled his account after discussing his controversial public profile in a private meeting. It helped keep him in the spotlight he loves. 

Alternatives: de-risking, un-banking, de-Nigel-ing.

ULEZ

Pronunciation guide: ˈjuːlɛz

Definition: An Ultra Low Emission Zone. A new environmental road tax that enrages some drivers, splits Labour and apparently wins (some) by-elections. 

Context: The expansion of London’s ULEZ earlier this year was met with a seething public backlash against the city’s Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan — and caused tremors which are still impacting U.K. national politics. 

Alternatives: LEZ, clean air zone, New World Order.

Branchform

Pronunciation guide: brɑːnʧ fɔːm

Definition: The official Police Scotland name for the investigation into allegations of fundraising fraud in the Scottish National Party. Not to be confused with the non-existent Operation Branchfoot, which Scottish journalists often mistakenly refer to for some reason.

Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon | Pool photo by Jane Barlow/Getty Images

Context: The investigation into the SNP has run for two years, and resulted in the arrests of Nicola Sturgeon, her husband Peter Murrell and the party’s former Treasurer Colin Beattie. No charges have been brought so far. 

Alternatives: SNP probe, blue tent, Nat-mare.

Motorhome

Pronunciation guide: ˈməʊtəhəʊm

Definition: A motor vehicle equipped like a caravan for living in, or leaving uninsured outside your parents’ house. 

Context: Scotland’s Sunday newspapers revealed earlier this year that cops investigating Operation Branchform — see above — seized a luxury motorhome from outside the house of former SNP chief Peter Murrell’s 92-year-old mother. No one in the party seems to know why it was purchased. 

Alternatives: Campervan, RV, SNP-mobile.

Kenough

Pronunciation guide: keɪ ɪˈnʌf

Definition: A term used by real adult males to signify that, like the Barbie movie character Beach Ken, they accept themselves for who they are. 

Context: After running Britain’s health service in the pandemic and then munching camel penis in the Australian jungle last year, Matt Hancock tried to show this year that he is Kenough in the only way he knows how: a cringe TikTok video.

Don’t confuse with: I’m Just Ken.

Oracy

Pronunciation guide: ˈɔːrəsi

Definition: The ability to express oneself fluently and grammatically in speech, particularly when running to become U.K. prime minister. 

Context: Labour Leader Keir Starmer sparked a mass-googling of “oracy” in the summer, when he unveiled his plans for schools to teach speaking skills to help give working class kids a better shot. Ultra-posh journalists and aides who think the Oxford Union debating society is A Very Normal Experience wondered why that might be needed.

Alternatives: eloquence; wonkish Starmerism; policy-that-doesn’t-bother-the-Rachel-Reeves-spreadsheet.

Jeweled Sword of Offering

Pronunciation guide: ʤuːəld sɔːd ɒv ˈɒfərɪŋ

Definition: Symbolic ornament used during the coronation ceremony for the U.K. sovereign. Also used by ambitious politicians taking the chance to increase their public profile.

Context: Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt shone during King Charles III’s coronation earlier this year, drawing on her military drill experience to carry the massive and heavy Sword of State during the ceremony with ease. What do you mean Britain is a mad country?!

Alternatives: Hefty blade; expensive tat; Penny’s pointer.

RAAC

Pronunciation guide: ræk 

Definition: A lightweight, bubbly form of concrete commonly used in construction between the 1950s and mid-1990s as a cheaper alternative to standard concrete. Less durable — meaning several schools fitted with it had to close this summer due to … the risk of collapse. 

Context: The already under-pressure U.K. government faced criticism for its handling of the situation as schools started closing. In government for 13 years, the Conservatives were accused of not bothering to deal with the crisis swiftly enough.

Alternatives: Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete; ol’ crumbly; Keegan’s remorse.

The Park View School which had various areas of the building affected by the RAAC concrete crisis | Leon Neal/Getty Images

Refoulement

Pronunciation guide:ˌriːfuːˈleɪmənt

Definition: The forcible return of refugees or asylum seekers to a country where they are liable to be subjected to persecution. 

Context: That country was Rwanda, in the U.K. Supreme Court’s judgment on Rishi Sunak’s troubled plan to send asylum seekers to the East African nation. Jack-of-all-trades news reporters insisted they totally understood complex legal rulings … while clicking on the Wikipedia page for refoulement just to be sure.

Alternatives: Annoying technicality; don’t-worry-we’ll-just-make-a-new-law.

Hallucinate

Pronunciation guide: həˈl(j)uːsɪneɪt

Definition: When an artificial intelligence hallucinates, it produces false information. Like a government press office but cooler.

Context: The word has become more prominent as Britain, with tech bro-in-chief Rishi Sunak at the helm, grapples with AI and its limitations.

Alternatives: Scary new tech; killer robots; the feeling experienced while watching the U.K.’s COVID-19 inquiry.

Fuckpigs

Pronunciation guide: fʌk pɪɡz

Definition: A VERY rude U.K. insult, generally referring to Cabinet ministers Dominic Cummings doesn’t approve of. 

Context: It turns out Cummings — formerly the government’s most senior adviser — sent texts at the height of the coronavirus pandemic that described senior ministers of the crown as “useless fuckpigs.” All the other evidence to the inquiry was totally and completely normal.

Alternatives: Everyone except genius Dom Cummings.