The Mad Monckton

by Henry on October 29, 2010

“Gideon Rachman”:

bq. The viscount is an interesting character. He once worked in the policy unit at Number Ten under Lady Thatcher and is now deputy leader of the anti-European UK Independence Party. More recently he has become famous as a vociferous climate-change sceptic and for fighting a Quixotic campaign to gain entrance into the House of Lords. I was seated opposite him at the pre-debate dinner, and initially I found his conversation rather unsettling: a blizzard of statistics and anecdotes on everything from climate to Europe, all delivered with supreme confidence and a slight gleam in the eye. I began to think that Viscount Monckton might be a formidable opponent during the debate. Then he told me that he has discovered a new drug that is a complete cure for two-thirds of known diseases – and that he expects it to go into clinical trials soon. I asked him whether his miracle cure was chiefly effective against viruses or bacterial diseases? “Both”, he said, “and prions”. At this point I felt a little more relaxed about the forthcoming debate.



Daragh McDowell 10.29.10 at 10:18 pm

Would have been nice to get his impressions on Hannan, who has the unfortunate trait of being only slightly barking mad. Oh well – the fact that the Union is still invitng the likes of Monckton back and hosting debates sponsored by the Britischer Jugend… I mean Young Britons Foundation makes me feel a lot better about having passed up the opportunity to join when I was there, or indeed to participate in any event staged. Other than the excellent Town V. Gown boxing night of course…


P O'Neill 10.30.10 at 12:10 am

We need to get Rachman sitting down with Monckton’s Irish partners on the climate-sceptic-with-accent scene, Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer.


mds 10.30.10 at 1:44 am

“Both”, he said, “and prions”.

I wonder who would be willing to gently break it to the Viscount that his cure wasn’t actually effective against the prions.


dr. bloor 10.30.10 at 2:55 am

Bipolar Disorder can be both entertaining and intimidating–in small doses.


Jerry Vinokurov 10.30.10 at 6:09 am

Oh, sweet, a cure for prions! My friends in prion labs will be very interested in this; too bad it’ll render their research obsolete, but hey, that’s science!


Tim Worstall 10.30.10 at 8:37 am

Having met the Viscount (erm, at the UKIP offices, although he joined after I stopped working for them) I’d say that Rachman has accurately described the very essence there.

Starts out extreme but seemingly reasonable and ends up, rapidly, way out in fruit loops land (yes, I know many would say that about everyone in UKIP but this is even by the standards of UKIP).


El Cid 10.30.10 at 5:31 pm

He also invented a carburetor which allows any car to get 500 miles per gallon. But the oil conspiracy makes him keep it secret.


Salient 10.30.10 at 5:59 pm

He also invented a carburetor which allows any car to get 500 miles per gallon.

And when asked whether his carburetor is more effectively paired with a petrol or a diesel engine, he replied, “Both. And also atomic fission reactors.”



Alex 10.30.10 at 10:32 pm

YBF is offering to “place philosophically sound conservatives” in jobs, it seems. This after the Tories disavowed it back in the campaign.


maidhc 10.31.10 at 6:31 am

A question of usage:
He once worked in the policy unit at Number Ten under Lady Thatcher.

This statement describes something that is impossible. The last time Margaret Thatcher was in Number Ten was 1990. At that time she was only a Rt. Hon. She didn’t receive a peerage until 1992. Her husband Denis became a baronet in 1991.

Is it a commonplace of usage to backdate titles? “I remember Sir Paul showed a great aptitude for fingerpainting when he was in my kindergarten class.”


belle le triste 10.31.10 at 9:28 am

maidhc re usage@10

As a professional sub, I’d say this transportation of subsequent titles — ditto name changes — into the past is perfectly acceptable usage; basically you decide which you want least, potential referential confusion or anachronism, and bend the pedantry accordingly. The risk in not using a current title — perhaps not huge in Mrs Thatcher’s case — is that the reader thinks you’re introducing a second person; distinguishing Lord Jones from this other fellow, Mr Jones, who did this thing that Lord Jones didn’t do.

If you’re really worried, of course, you expand as follows: “I remember Yusuf Islam, or Cat Stevens as he then was…”


ejh 10.31.10 at 11:58 am

I was going to agree with this but I wondered about, say, “Cooper put Ali on the canvas in the fourth”, when Ali was actually Clay at the time of the fight referred to.


chris y 10.31.10 at 12:27 pm

I think you refer to people as they’re best known currently, at least outside academic contexts. Thus you would talk about Disraeli even if you’re referring to something that happened after he became Lord Beaconsfield. Conversely, the Duke of Wellington, even when he was just Mr Wellesley.

Where somebody’s equally well known by different monikers, nobody gives a shit. Robert Clive, Sir Robert Clive, Lord Clive, same difference.


belle le triste 10.31.10 at 1:25 pm

My rule of thumb would be, “Is the reader/listener going to be genuinely puzzled or misled?” — and this will be a judgment call depending on the context. (If you’ve already established in the given context that Clay and Ali are the same person, then best to be maximally informative, assuming it matters, by using the correct name for the correct period. If it’s a wide-ranging informal chat — spoken not written — it’s not that big a deal. Since the written word can be corrected before it’s read, you might as well aim for compact precision.)

I always feel bad for “Wendy (formerly Walter) Carlos”: who probably wishes the reader wasn’t every time remind of her (formerly his) intimate life history, in an article about the specifics of the voltage-controlled synthesiser; but readers who don’t know it in advance will be tripped up.


Josh 10.31.10 at 7:51 pm

It can be very much a case-by-case choice. Pseudonyms are hard: “When Woody Allen was a boy” works okay; “When James Tiptree Jr. was a girl” sounds awkward to me. When you’re talking about an artist’s work, however, I think the name on the record or book cover –”Cat Stevens”, “Jane Siberry”– is usually the way to go. But maybe not with the Brontë sisters.


Anderson 10.31.10 at 8:02 pm

That is what makes British political history/biography so maddening to read. I can make out when it’s the central figure — Cecil becomes Cranborne becomes Salisbury — but one needs a scorecard for the peripheral ones. Really — any reasonably involved study or biography should come with a table in front or back, showing when Althorp became Stanley, etc.


Tim Worstall 10.31.10 at 9:10 pm

“any reasonably involved study or biography should come with a table in front or back, showing when Althorp became Stanley, etc.”

Would make those Russian novels easier. But then whether someone is Sahsa, or Alexander Dimitrievitch, Gospodin Usupov or whatever, depends on who is talking to the same character. AD Usupov.


Daragh McDowell 10.31.10 at 9:13 pm

Given that Thatcher is presently ‘Lady Thatcher’ the sentence makes pretty sound grammatical sense. It would be like saying ‘I knew Dr. Jones when he was ten!’ or ‘I supervised Dr. Jones when he was doing his doctorate.’ Dr. Jones still exists in the present tense in the sentence, and therefore the correct address is by his present title.


belle le triste 10.31.10 at 9:27 pm

Well, actually it *isn’t* quite like them, Daragh, because it doesn’t contain a temporal modifier such as clause beginning with the word “when”: this lack is why the issue arises.


Daragh McDowell 10.31.10 at 9:29 pm

I think “He once worked ” functions as a temporal modifier.


sharon 10.31.10 at 10:42 pm

“Both. And […].”

This construction surely has the potential to become almost as famous as “… and a pony.” Don’t you think?


Daragh McDowell 10.31.10 at 10:45 pm

@sharon +1.


Phil 10.31.10 at 11:04 pm

The problem is that “under Lady Thatcher” is part of the statement qualified by “once”. “Lady Thatcher once employed him” would place the title in the present, leaving it open whether or not to project it into the past; the current construction doesn’t.


Daragh McDowell 10.31.10 at 11:11 pm

@Phil – hmmm, I think you’re right. Its at this point I’m wishing I still had access to my College’s Dev office, which had one of those fantastic style guides for figuring this sort of bizarre british stuff out…


ajay 11.01.10 at 9:53 am

That is what makes British political history/biography so maddening to read. I can make out when it’s the central figure—Cecil becomes Cranborne becomes Salisbury—but one needs a scorecard for the peripheral ones.

“The Scots (originally Irish, but by now Scotch) were at this time inhabiting Ireland, having driven the Irish (Picts) out of Scotland; while the Picts (originally Scots) were now Irish (living in brackets) and vice versa. It is essential to keep these distinctions clearly in mind (and verce visa).”

Try also Chinese history. Emperors had a personal name, but this was never used about them during their reign or after their death; instead they were known by an entirely separate title during their reign, and another completely different “temple name” after their deaths.


Phil 11.01.10 at 12:38 pm

The first time I read that passage, I completely lost it when I got to “(living in brackets)” – I had to put the book down. I’ve been looking for writers who can make me laugh like that ever since. (The early work of writers who went on to be taken (and take themselves) much more seriously seems to be a good field, if James Thurber and Woody Allen are anything to go by.)


chris y 11.01.10 at 1:27 pm

Pharaohs also had several names, typically five or six. According to something I was reading the other day, the Horus name of the person commonly known as Tutankhamun was actually Amuntutankh, but I expect that’s a battle already lost.


piglet 11.01.10 at 2:46 pm

The present king of France is bald.


Norwegian Guy 11.01.10 at 3:10 pm

When Thatcher was a girl, she was not called Lady Thatcher. Her name was Margaret Hilda Roberts. The by far largest category of people changing names must still be women changing their name after marriage. Don’t now how this is handled in her biographies. Might as well just call her Maggie.

As a republican (and as an egalitarian), I would add that it’s probably best to stop referring to people with titles, especially noble titles. If people stopped calling folks Sir, Lord, Lady etc., perhaps the day when the nobility is abolished will come closer. Citizen Thatcher should rather be referred to as Mrs. Thatcher, though even that sound archaic to my Norwegian ears, since all kinds of titles – including herr, fru and frøken (mister, mrs. and miss) – have fallen out of use in Scandinavia.


Nabakov 11.01.10 at 4:45 pm

For “sausage” read “hostage” throughout.


ajay 11.01.10 at 4:53 pm

If people stopped calling folks Sir, Lord, Lady etc., perhaps the day when the nobility is abolished will come closer.

The British way to abolish nobility would not be to make sure nobody is a Sir or Lady, but to make sure everybody was. Titles of rank should be compulsory. The specific title should either be up to the individual (in which case I want Thane) or assigned at random.


Anderson 11.01.10 at 4:59 pm

Here’s an example from Douglas Hurd’s biography of Peel, which I confess I am reading:

Even close students of the peerage may be puzzled that Frederick Robinson who had been Chancellor of the Exchequer under Lord Liverpool, was Viscount Goderich when he became a tearful Prime Minister in 1827, and now Earl of Ripon when Peel sent him to the Board of Trade.

(Ripon, or Goderich, and perhaps even Robinson, “wept at every setback,” annoying his comrades and leading him to step down after five months, whoever he was.)


ajay 11.01.10 at 5:36 pm

…Monmouth, an indiscriminate son of Charles II…


Chris Williams 11.01.10 at 8:02 pm

Given what he did to Floyd Patterson over the issue of “What’s my name?”, I’d be inclined to say “Ali” rather than “Clay”.

PS Candidates are advised not to attempt both ladies.


praisegod barebones 11.02.10 at 10:10 pm


praisegod barebones 11.02.10 at 10:11 pm

….wave ofbeards…..

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