Monday, 29 July 2019
Had you been keeping a watching brief over the Brexit discourse– and many other issues, such as the filthy racism of anybody not brown, or the hideous austerity which barely keeps the unemployable in tribal tattoos – you may have noticed a certain paucity of originality. ‘They didn’t know what they were voting for’, perhaps, or ‘they fell for lies on a bus’, possibly sowed ‘the politics of hate and division’ or one of my favourites, ‘the referendum was won by illegal means’. (I think they mean ‘voting’.)
People in general are pretty poor at expressing themselves and they rely on others to do the heavy lifting, to provide the pithy phrases for their placards, to make their chants loosely rhyme and to demonstrate to all the world their vacuous lack of any joined-up thought. In the process a certain mangling of the language occurs whereby linguistics shortcomings are revealed, words are tortured into a shape they were never intended to fit and the overall impression is of a disorganised rabble making it up as they go along. If only they had some sort of quality control to avert the grammar crimes which do so much to undermine their cause.
Six decades ago, Sir Ernest Gowers decided that these would not be failings of the civil service and he gave to the English-speaking world the marvellous maxim: ‘Be short, be simple, be human’. Since then his best-selling guide, Plain Words, has never been out of print and never out of relevance as our ability to communicate in our mother tongue is increasingly relegated to the second division of desirable attributes to include on a curriculum vitae. (In fact, short, simple, human CVs are thin on the ground these days.)
So relentless has been the assault on educational standards and particularly linguistic competence that Jacob Rees-Mogg’s styleguide has attracted exactly the type of impotent derision we have come to expect from the perpetually offended. So quick, so obvious and so vociferous has been the opposition that, were one a cynical soul, it could easily be imagined that Jake was trolling, as the usual suspects lined up to take the bait. I even happened upon a highly amusing radio discussion where it was claimed that an insistence on competent English disadvantaged those who could not demonstrate it. Well, duh-er!
Once again, then, the response of the left to declining standards is to lower the bar. What are now routinely referred to as ‘vulnerable groups’ were once the most covetous of a good education. It used to be a badge of honour for the working class, especially immigrants, to acquire fluency because, without language, all other learning is at risk. But with rigour removed from our English teaching and fewer students going on to study the language at an advanced level, it is no surprise that, instead of addressing the shortfall, Labour seeks to close the gap by plastering over it.
The lefty style guide seeks to play down excellence and revels in removing language from daily discourse. Words are banned and meanings altered to fit an agenda which is so determinedly focused on equality that it matters not how low we have to sink to achieve it. The approved text teaches that insistence on good English is colonial; it perpetuates a servant and master society; it advantages the ‘posh’ boys; it is a form of white privilege and grammar is a tool of empire, etc, etc, etc. But grammar, as we all know is the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit.
But, as ever, the one word to which the left – famously possessing no sense of humour, irony or self-awareness – routinely demonstrates a near total blindness is hypocrisy. After the book burning, after the elimination of ‘unhelpful’ words. After seeking to control the language for so many years and in so many ways, who would have imagined that the left would get so very upset over somebody seeking to do exactly the same. And as for the scorn poured on his affinity for imperial measurements, before you criticise Jacob Rees-Mogg perhaps you should walk 1.60934 kilometres in his shoes.