Maybe Rees-Mogg has a point, coming from an age group as I do when you were routinely addressed by your surname, now apparently your ‘family name’, and using your ‘first’ name, a term mostly unused now in favour of ‘given’, was just seen as far too friendly and used only by close family and friends, and certainly not by junior staff and shop sales people.
Are you comfortable when addressed by all and sundry by your ‘given’ name? Well, it’s not something that bothers me overly, but getting letters and emails from companies and complete strangers who use my given name seems somehow over friendly and slightly unnerving. But then I’m not ‘on’ social media.
You may remember when greeting particularly anyone except family and friends was ‘good morning’ and so on, or ‘how do you do’, not that awful ‘pleased to meet you’ – that was popular for a time, but now we all seemed to have succumbed to ‘Hi’, ‘Hiya’, ‘Hi Mate’ and worst of all ‘alright?’, along with ‘high fiving ‘and hugs and kisses. It may be all right for these emotional continentals to do it, but for goodness sake we’re British!
Much of this touchy feely kissy kissy stuff stems from the Blair years and as Rees-Mogg implies some of today’s words and phrases are just new Labour – odd really when ‘back in the day’ it was the thing to pretend not to be educated or intelligent, not to be seen as a ‘Boff’, and to speak with an affected mockney or estuary accent and dress down and be one of the lads. Tony was almost never seen without a coffee cup in hand wearing an open top shirt. It was about that time the police started to dress down too.
Lots of young women became ‘ladettes’ – a sort of ‘Georgette Bear’ if you remember the TV ads. Both men and women, supposedly the ‘get ahead something in the city’ types, took to rushing around with a take-away coffee or bottle of Evian in one hand, mobile phone in the other like a sort of status symbol, a bit like medallion man in the 70s. Then came girl power, baseball cap wearing women, pony tails pushed through the back, their hair waving in the wind like thousands of posh spice girls.
At the other end of that spectrum we had the ‘OK Ya’ pseudo Slone types. Thank god they have largely disappeared, replaced, now we are all ‘middle class’, by those women and men of a certain age with the men dressed in checked shirts and red trousers and sandals who yarp endlessly on about Fiona or George and what they have heard on the BBC in loud voices.
The use of surnames helped with discipline of course – maybe that’s why it went out of favour. Discipline is something government, if we ever have one worthy of the name, may well have to be re-introduced, particularly if we don’t leave the EU and the defence force introduces conscription.
Service discipline of course was something else, much of it mindless as any ex-serviceman will tell you. That’s probably why it went out of favour as the last national service men returned to civvy street and vowed never to be subjected to standards that they didn’t agree with ever again. Not for them ever again the wearing of a tie, or polished shoes.
Standards in schools also changed or fell depending on your view. No longer would pupils give their number at morning registration, only their given name. Walk on the left in corridors, stand when a teacher entered a classroom, arrive in school uniform with clean shoes and all the rest. A previous generation and their parents would have generally accepted all this as necessary for the school community to function, oddly though many schools have reintroduced uniform complete with blazers as part of their attempt to raise standards.
One never ever ate in the street or barged into people while walking around shops or on the pavement with a glazed look in your eyes. Men always walked on the right of a woman, all conventions which make for some sociability and makes getting around a busy place so much easier. Goodnes, men would actually open a car door for women to enter or leave. Men always sat in the front and women in the rear of the car. I never found out why and never questioned the convention, but it’s still done today by people of all ages – you look.
Apparently numbers of students taking English have dropped, which probably explains why the head of training at a very large city law firm told me that they were having to send trainees having arrived clutching their new law degree on GCSE English courses as they had no or little knowledge of English grammar or comprehension. A lawyer with no word skills, goodness knows how they cope now that predictive text seems to be the chosen medium of communication.
Would we all like to return to the modesty standards of say the Victorian era, the standards of dress of the middle classes of the 1930s, the table manners of the 1950s, or the received pronunciation of the halcyon years of the British Theatre and the BBC. Who knows? If the lead given by Rees-Mogg becomes fashionable maybe we will all be wearing sports jackets, shirts and ties, cavalry twill trousers with brogues next season. And the Queen may reopen the next session of the new parliament in her traditional robes and crown instead of the ‘mufti’ she wore last time. Imagine the Speaker may even wear the traditional robes and wig too; now there is a thought.
Each generation and, dare I say it, class has its own conventions and standards, and that of course is what highlights the problems of Rees-Mogg’s approach. Difficult to set and enforce any sort of ‘standard’, particularly when most don’t agree with discipline and would see any sort enforcement as class-based and would hardly agree to a convention not set by them.
Now don’t think that standards have gone away. They have for you and me but out there wafting through life and living in another universe, it seems, are the ‘upper classes’, the retired officers of the services, the movers and shakers of yesteryear, still listening avidly to the political programmes on BBC reading the broadsheet press, still having a late supper and inviting friends to dinner parties, still with conversations about their son and his ‘regiment’ and how Annabelle is doing so well working for that NGO in Brussels, while inviting one another to ‘weekends’ and ‘At homes’, still writing letters by hand and in green ink, sending hand written invitations while still worrying about how granddaughter Fiona will get on with her gap year in the mountains with Lucinda. They don’t in the main acknowledge different standards of education, of dress, of manners, or of anything else for that matter.
It’s not a life of privilege or entitlement, you understand, it’s how things have always been.
‘Our standards as you know will always out.’