Researching an article about Mr Huhne recently, I was struck by how many public figures now use diminutives of their names. There have always been a few who have done so, of course, but now it is a mass phenomenon, like drunkenness in public. Chris himself does so.
Still, one cannot imagine anyone referring to Gladstone as Bill, to Wellington as Art or Artie, or to Asquith as Herbie. At one time even authors and other intellectuals didn’t go in much for diminutives: if you spoke of Ed Gibbon, Tony Trollope, Tommy Hardy or Bernie Shaw, people would wonder who on earth you were talking about.
When I looked up Mr Huhne on Wikipedia – I am not too proud to admit that I use it, and once even corrected a minor error on it – I noticed that he had been preceded in his post as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (of which, to judge by the title, the government is in favour) by Ed Milliband and succeeded by Ed Davey. Of course, one of Ed Milliband’s senior colleagues is Ed Balls. I suppose they have all been Ed-unted.
Chrissy-baby had served under Nick Clegg in the same cabinet as had Vince Cable, while he was succeeded as Liberal Democrat spokesperson (though surely the word person is sexist?) on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs by Steve Webb, and succeeded as MP for Eastleigh by Mike Thornton. I noticed that his wife, whose use of the diminutive Vicky at least had the excuse that her given name, Vasiliki, is unfamiliar to English ears, was succeeded as head of the Government Economic Service by Dave Ramsden.
Whence cometh all this bogus, ideological informality? I have nothing against diminutives as such, but I object to their universal use because such a use implies a loss of subtlety in social relations.
The chumminess and matiness of it all, its implication of egalitarianism, is as false as a tin whistle playing Beethoven because most public figures who go in for it have devoted their lives to ruthless social and economic ascent. They accept titles such as knighthoods and peerages, but use the diminutive: Sir Tony Brenton, Sir Al Aynesley-Green, Lord Gus Macdonald. They are about as egalitarian in reality as was Kim Il Sung. For them it is virtue without effort and egalitarianism without tears, that is to say without having to forgo or disgorge anything. They have found a way of having their cake and eating it.
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