I was glad to see that Jacob Rees-Mogg, the excellent new Leader of the House of Commons, has issued a memorandum to his private office setting out some standards for written English including a restricted vocabulary.
When I was a minister, I didn’t issue a written instruction, but I certainly made it clear that low-grade managerial ‘newspeak’ was off-limits in anything given me to read or to sign. I am glad to see that there is a significant overlap in the words and phrases that I banned and that Rees-Mogg has now banned, including the frightful ‘ongoing’, but -for the life of me- I cannot see what he has against ‘very’.
My own bete noir was our widely-shared habit of turning nouns into verbs. Although I am often guilty myself, I detest it in others.
The word ‘showcasing’ would drive me into an apoplectic fit and my staff quickly learnt to avoid it.
I must have been a dreadful pedant as a schoolmaster. It was some time ago. Indeed, 39 years ago I taught at Charterhouse where Jeremy Hunt, lately Foreign Secretary, was a mere junior boy and too young to attend any of my classes. Now he joins me on the back benches.
A number of colleagues and constituents wished me well as the reshuffle commenced. Of course, one wouldn’t be a politician without the desire to rule one day. As Arthur Miller said “a salesman’s got to dream boy, it comes with the territory”.
The luxury however, of not anticipating any crumbs to fall from the table, was that when parliamentary business ended early last Tuesday and Wednesday and whilst anxious colleagues were continually fretting and checking their phones, I relaxed in Hyde Park reading Andrew Robert’s excellent biography of Churchill, confident that I could catch-up with events listening to Ritala Shah on the wireless at ten o’clock.
I thoroughly enjoyed being a minister and there are aspects of it I miss. I recall however, that Digby Jones, the businessman and former head of the CBI, was made a minister by Gordon Brown. When Jones resigned 18 month later he was reported as saying it was a most “dehumanising experience” .
I know what he meant.
As a minister you are confined to your own brief which can be very frustrating when great events -the focus of the nations attention- are taking place beyond it and you may not give your own commentary. Equally, you can sometimes become aware that matters at the heart of your brief -on which you have become the nation’s expert- have been decided above your head and you weren’t even asked your opinion. It happens
After 5 years as David Cameron’s parliamentary secretary in the frustration of opposition, we finally got into Downing Street in 2010. Not so long afterwards, I recall observing in conversation with him that we still seemed to spend half our time finding out what the Government was doing, and the other half trying to stop it