The new Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg has reconfirmed his conservative credentials by issuing a short style manual to his staff.
There is finally some good news out of Britain, or at least what many of us on the conservative / traditionalist side of the sociopolitical aisle hope will prove to be good news: Boris Johnson having won the Conservative (Tory) party election, he has subsequently been appointed her 14th Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury and asked to form a government by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.
He is generally expected to do what former PM Theresa May was unable or unwilling to do, namely make good on Brexit, and generally help to reverse the Leftward slide of Britain in recent years (decades). While there are limits to what one man can do, whether his name is Johnson or Trump, there does seem to be justification for guarded optimism!
One thing he does seem to be doing already, and that is shaking up – indeed, dramatically reshaping – the Cabinet, and one of those appointments is particularly interesting: he has appointed well-known conservative voice in Britain, and (until his appointment) chairman of the conservative and Eurosceptic European Research Group, Jacob Rees-Mogg as Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the (Privy) Council.
The two posts give Rees-Mogg a fair amount of influence – although most of it behind the scenes, in terms of procedure, organization, and administration, areas in which Rees-Mogg is known to specialize. He himself notes,
“The prime minister kindly offered me a very interesting job to do, one that is something that I’m very interested in because parliamentary procedure and practice is something I’ve spent a lot of time on.”
Rees-Mogg (who has acquired the tongue-in-cheek nickname of the “Honorable member for the 18th century”) is a true conservative, and not just politically: one of his first actions in his new post as Leader of the House of Commons was to issue a memorandum to his staff – indeed, a short “manual of style,” as the linked article points out:
“Mr Rees-Mogg wishes to expunge from office communications hackneyed words and phrases, illiterate punctuation, inappropriate forms of address and sloppy writing in general.
The author, Alexander Boot, goes on to comment,
“The only regrettable thing about this undertaking is that it should be necessary. Clearly, basic literacy is no longer an entry requirement for jobs in the civil service.
“Yet any reader of police reports from, say, the ‘50s will find that even beat constables could then express themselves lucidly and grammatically.
“In those antediluvian times, civil servants were expected to be able to use language properly, at times even elegantly. That this is no longer the case isn’t so much a problem as a festering symptom of one: pervasive cultural decay.”
Sadly, a similar (if not even more pronounced) decay has occurred here in the U.S., and it, too, is reflected in the use of language, both spoken and, especially, written. To quote Mr Boot once more,
“instilling linguistic discipline just may improve people’s discipline of thought and perhaps even of character. And that in turn may make them better people both intellectually and morally.”
This may seem an overstatement, but it is really not. Sloppiness in one area of life may reflect sloppiness and/or lack of discipline in others; habits of language use may very well reflect the mindset of the user. Despots or would-be despots know this, even if others may have forgotten or chosen to ignore it:
“Evil rulers are scared of this possibility, which is why language often finds itself among their first victims, especially the language of official communications. Such rulers want the people to be sufficiently literate to be able to read propaganda effluvia, but not so literate as to develop a discipline of mind.
“Not all modern states are evil, but they all have totalitarian tendencies. Hence governments see people who use language with style and rigour as not only superfluous but downright dangerous.”
Cf. George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four, and its Ministry of Truth (MiniTru) and “newspeak.” See also much of what passes for journalism these days, and even more, what passes for political discourse! As Mr Boot notes, there is “nothing like mass illiteracy to turn people into a pliable herd obediently voting in a succession of nonentities.” He continues,
“Rhetoric and logic are the latter stages of intellectual development, but grammar and style are the basics without which the latter stages will never be reached…
“Mr Rees-Mogg is a conservative par excellence, which etymologically suggests that he wishes to conserve things worth keeping. Enforcing correct English in his office is a good start.“
There is more to this article, including specifics on the style guidelines enjoined by Mr Rees-Mogg (note, inter alia, the lack of period after “Mr”). Read and enjoy!
N.B. Tightening up the style and syntax of communications coming out of his office is not the only way in which Rees-Mogg is signaling a more staunchly conservative direction. He also requires his staff to use imperial measurements (not metric!) at all times; to address non-titled males with “Esq.” (for “Esquire”) after their names; and above all to “Check your work!” His first speech in his new role was “littered” with “historical references which covered nearly a millennium – dating back to the House of Plantagenet.” There is definitely a fresh wind blowing!