Oh, to be a fly on the wall as my noble and learned friends at the House of Lords reconvene after the Easter break next Monday. The fly would have to be gender-neutral, in keeping with a new guide issued to all 766 peers and about 650 staff… and the woke new dawn these blinking “folks” are waking up to.
“Folks”, because the Lords’ new ‘Inclusive Language Guide’ has stipulated that the traditional greeting “ladies and gentlemen” be condemned to the dustbin of history from now on, with members urged to adopt a form of address that is part Dolly Parton, part Bugs Bunny, instead.
This is just one of the words and phrases to be woke-dated at one of the most Jurassic institutions in the land. You see “the language you use impacts others around you,” the authorities explain in the document, which was obtained by a Sunday paper under Freedom of Information laws and is peppered with audible, patronising sighs. “If the words and phrases you use are offensive this may exclude certain groups of people based on assumptions; cause distress or embarrassment; reinforce derogatory labels or stereotypes and belittle certain groups of people.”
Given the gender, class and privilege-specific nature of the upper chamber’s name (of which, by the way, there is no mention in the guide), and the fact that the collective age of the members probably adds up to 90-odd million years, this is a little like the palaeontology department of the Natural History Museum being stormed by woke missionaries, intent on giving the stegosauruses, triceratops and tyrannosaurus rex a crash course in correct pronoun usage and “the importance of remaining relevant”. Or, indeed, NHS midwives being told to avoid using words like “vagina” or “breast milk” with new and pregnant mothers. Which isn’t me being fantastically far-fetched but a reality, reported at the weekend. (Their new guide suggests that “human milk” and – steel yourself – “front hole” or “genital opening” are preferable. You know, to avoid offence and upset.)
Not that the woke warriors have ever let a hefty dose of absurdity get in the way of their crusade to make us all Better People. Which is why the Lords’ new guide goes on to list further words and phrases to be avoided. “Manpower” ought to be replaced with neutral-sounding alternatives such as “staffing” and “workforce”, “man-made” should instead be “artificial” or “synthetic” and rather than refer to a person’s “class” it would be better to speak of their “socio-economic status”. But my favourite is the ditching of “the common man” in favour of the “average person.” Quite how often either the common man or the average person comes up in conversation at the Lords is anyone’s guess.
Needless to say, the backlash has been swift and ferocious. Historian Andrew Roberts called the move: “Sad and somewhat pathetic,” adding that an establishment founded in 1801 “ought to have remained above such ludicrous faddism.” And Jeremy Black, emeritus professor of history at the University of Exeter, said: “It is extraordinary that the House of Lords administration thinks that such measures demonstrate relevance.”
But some have defended the suggestions. Dame Margaret Drabble believes “the phrase ‘common man’ could easily cause offence except when used in inverted commas”, and feminist campaigner and novelist Kathy Lette said she was “all for taking the ‘man’ out of everyday language – not just in the House of Lords, but in all workplaces.”
To make life easier we could of course take “man” out of usage generally – alongside “woman.” Both seem to be causing us no end of headaches, and the future of humanity aside, do we really need them?
Only the problem with makeovers, as every homeowner knows, is that once you’ve dealt with the chipped paintwork, the surfaces look decrepit in comparison. Then there’s the flooring, the carpeting and the fixtures. Those will need to be updated, too. Before you know it, a few tweaks have led to an overhaul.
You can deal with the language in the Lords, sure. You can assign a team of woke-terpreters to help members struggling with their new lexicon speak precisely the right brand of gibberish. Just as they do with world leaders, these interpreters can sit beside peers in their headsets offering up sanitised simultaneous translations. “What my honourable learned friend meant to say was…” But then there’s the deeply off-message pomp: the ermine robes that new peers such as Baroness Hayman have already started saying should be replaced with man-made ones (sorry, “synthetic”). The benches will have to be reupholstered in polyurethane; the Peers’ Dining Room menu will have to be vegan. And even when you think we’ve reached peak Looney Tunes, that won’t be all… folks.