When Dr Johnson was asked his opinion of the dictum, newly minted by Irish dramatist Henry Brooke, that “he who rules o’er freemen should himself be free”, the great lexicographer was in fine tossing and goring mood.
With a snort that echoes down the centuries, he replied: “It might as well be said he who drives fat oxen should himself be fat.”
One is reminded of this tavern room exchange by an unlikely link between the outspoken Conservative MP, David Evans, and the Great Cham of our own age, Lord Rees-Mogg. Of Mr Evans it is difficult to say which caused the greater merriment: his magnificently politically incorrect remarks about women, illegitimacy, and recidivist black rapists or the outraged amour-propre of the liberal-left upon hearing them. Lord Rees-Mogg, though no lefty, found himself in something of a dilemma. As our foremost social commentator, sage, wit, bibliophile, aesthete, man of letters, and all-round egg-head, he was obliged by duty to pass judgment on Mr Evans’s outré observations and no less obliged by good form to condemn them. And yet there was the niggling irritation that his lordship’s views on the importance of bringing up children within marriage accorded with those of the red-neck MP for Welwyn Hatfield.
Rees-Mogg cleverly devised a method of easing his discomfort. First, he would distance himself from the impossible MP and then, from a safe position, agree with him. And so the former editor of The Times sharpened his pen and dipped it in the well labelled “Sardonic Superiority”.
“David Evans is an offensive comedian,” he began. “He thinks he is being frank and manly when he is merely expressing the ideas of a bully in the language of a clown.” That, you would think, put sufficient ground between the finer feelings of Lord Rees-Mogg and the crudity of a man who once played professional football and cricket and who made a fortune from building a waste disposal business. But no, those facts alone merited ad hominem comment.
Dipping this time into “Lordly Disdain”, Rees-Mogg continued: “He represents a sweaty testosterone culture which rejects and perhaps fears women; such a culture is still quite strong in the world of professional athletes and refuse contractors in which David Evans failed to grow up.”
One could speculate for hours on what Lord Rees-Mogg knows of the worlds of liniment and jock strap, of discarded fish heads and empty pease pudding containers. Perhaps there is something of such matters to be found among the leather-bound antiquarian volumes that adorn his library; or perhaps since he was forced into the acquaintance of Rupert Murdoch, who is certainly au fait with sweaty testosterone and rubbish, Lord Rees-Mogg has acquired some first-hand knowledge.
The point of most interest, however, is the assumption that he who runs a waste disposal business is himself a dustman. This is, of course, nonsense. For a refutation, Rees-Mogg need look no further than the aforementioned Mr Murdoch. A multimillionaire who has made a fortune from rubbish, the Australian tycoon is a well-educated, literate man who is about as far removed from the average Sun reader as it is possible to get.
Here is another example: EMI chairman Sir Colin Southgate reports in his latest statement to shareholders that the “Spice Girls’ debut album Spice reached number one in five countries and achieved platinum status in 20 countries”. Later, he records with satisfaction, “Deana Carter’s debut album Did I Shave My Legs for This? resulted in a major breakthrough for this new country artist”.
Does Lord Rees-Mogg believe that because Sir Colin presides over musical junk he is himself a tin-eared, Ecstasy-popping, disco freak?
The Rees-Mogg slur will be familiar to the world of marketing, which is commonly assailed by the ill-informed barbs of the chattering classes. It is common for such critics to believe that, because an advertisement is silly or banal, those characteristics are shared by its creators. If only they knew the thought, analysis, research, planning and sheer mental anguish that goes into crafting commercial messages for the mass market, they might be surprised.
For instance, there is currently running a press campaign for Ruddles County Beer. It shows the bodies of three men, from the neck down to the knee, naked except for their underpants. Each wears a different type of nether garment, the first, Y-fronts; the second, boxer shorts decorated with teddy bears; and the third, tight-fitting white pants rather like cycle shorts. The caption reads: “Are you ready for a Ruddles?” Above the third figure there are the words “I’m ready”.
What can this enigmatic advertisement mean? On closer study, there may be a case for arguing that the third man – the one who is ready – is more prominent beneath his shorts than the other two, indeed he might even be enjoying a state of arousal. Why this should make him better prepared for a pint of beer is uncertain. As are the reasons why anyone dressed in nothing more than underpants should be contemplating a pint. Is there perhaps a sexual innuendo in the expression “Ready for a Ruddles”?
It would be easy to assume, Mogg-like, that whoever devised this ad is a coarse, vulgar, smutty, uncouth oaf. The truth, as we all know, is that he or she is in all probability the embodiment of refined sensibility and delicacy of thought.