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Why don’t MPs say these words any more?

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Mark Duffy/UK Parliament

We cannot be sure what MPs and peers will talk about in 2019, but one word is likely to crop up a lot.

Brexit was mentioned 7,495 times in Parliament last year.

However it was only in December 2012 that it made its first appearance, courtesy of Liberal Democrat peer Lord Maclennan.

And the following year the word wasn’t mentioned at all.

Here are some other words that have risen and fallen in political popularity.

Although the UK has been a member of the European Union for decades, the bloc is discussed far more often now that the UK is departing.

There was a bit of a spike in 2011 when the European Union Act was passed, creating a legal requirement to hold a referendum if any proposals were made to transfer further powers from the UK to the EU.

In the end, a referendum took place simply because the then-Prime Minister David Cameron promised one.

And when the UK voted to leave, mentions of the EU shot up.

The figures above are for mentions of “European Union” and not “EU”, because the search tool on Hansard – parliament’s archive – requires search terms of at least three characters.

Leaving the EU has big consequences for many aspects of policy – especially the UK’s trading relationships.

The EU’s customs union means there are no internal tariffs, or import taxes, on goods that are transported between them.

The UK government wants to leave this body in order to have the freedom to negotiate its own trade deals with other countries.

Politicians barely ever mentioned the customs union before the Brexit vote, but, as you can see, that changed dramatically.

Aside from Brexit, one area in which there has been a huge shift in the past decade is technology.

“No sector of society is immune from the explosion in the use of social media communication tools,” said Labour’s now deputy leader Tom Watson back in 2008, marking the first mention of “social media” in the House of Commons.

He was right, and use of the term has increased every year since, with 825 mentions in 2018 alone.

The surge in mentions for “artificial intelligence” has been even more recent.

It was barely mentioned before 2016, when politicians said it a few dozen times.

But it rose dramatically the following year when the House of Lords Artificial Intelligence Committee was established.

So, politicians are talking more about Brexit and technology – but what have they stopped talking about as much?

The economy is a big one. During the financial crisis and the following years of recovery, it dominated the political conversation.

The UK economy was in recession for five quarters in 2008 and 2009, but speculation of a later “double dip” recession turned out to be unfounded.

The UK has had a budget deficit – spending more money than it receives – ever since 2001. After the financial crisis, it ballooned.

It has slowly fallen since, but has not been eliminated.

When we look at parliamentary mentions of “deficit”, we see a very similar pattern.

It shot up around the time of the financial crisis and has been slowly falling ever since.

While we might hear lots about the customs union, transition period and backstop now, we are less likely to hear similarly complex economic terms.

Take quantitative easing – when a central bank buys assets, usually government bonds, from money it has created electronically.

Both the Bank of England and the US Federal Reserve embarked on the process in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis in an attempt to stimulate economic growth.

But mentions have slowed to a trickle over the past decade as Brexit has taken centre stage.

Foreign policy priorities have also shifted over the past decade.

Thousands of British troops were stationed in Afghanistan in the late 2000s, with 454 soldiers losing their lives in the country between 2001 and 2015.

The last combat troops left Afghanistan in 2014, though a significant number are stationed there now in non-combat roles as part of the Nato mission.

The UK’s troop contribution to this mission was beefed up in 2018, corresponding with a small uptick in parliamentary mentions.

The story of Iraq is more complex.

It was mentioned a whopping 3,805 times in 2003 when the war began.

It then fell sharply, before ticking up again from 2014 related to so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

It is hard to predict what might plummet from the news agenda. However, it seems likely that Brexit and technology will remain big issues over the next decade.

But remember, back in 2010 the customs union was mentioned once in the House of Lords – and not at all in the House of Commons.

In 2018 those figures were 547 and 1,537 respectively.

So, it is more than possible that the biggest political issue of the 2020s is not even on politicians’ radars right now.

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