Politicians have not stopped being pompous, but these days they are pompous in a faux-bonhomous, sub-Australian way. The minister is now by inflation called the ‘secretary of state’, but on The World at One or PM, he will address Ms Kearney or Mr Mair as ‘Martha’ or ‘Eddie’ through every wiggle of the party line, much as a master or mistress would once have spoken to an indoor servant. As for themselves, they want us to call them by first names instanter, but not ‘Kenneth’ or ‘Anthony’. Along with the Greengrocer’s Apostrophe, we must now live with the Politician’s Diminutive: he is, and must be, ‘Ken’ or ‘Tony’ (or Geoff, or Ed, or Andy…).
This chummery affects the best of them. Some glinting PR type has told the useful and rather reputable Mr Cable that ‘Vincent’ is too formal. So, to the City and the world, he must now be ‘Vince’. (Actually, so I have heard, before this rubbish came in, ‘Vincent’, with its Catholic ring, had helped him, a non-Catholic, win a tight, Celtic-supporting ward in Glasgow.)
I’m not proposing a return to watch-chains and aldermanic gravity, but ‘Mr Attlee’ and ‘Mr Macmillan’ sounded about right, and the Politician’s Diminutive is an assertion of instant friendship, at source, without the option, which is false all the way through.