David Marsh has an entertaining column in The Guardian about house style with regard to the peerage, beginning with the question: “Which of these (hypothetical, I emphasise) sentences do you think works better? Baron Hall of Birkenhead has invited The Lord Lloyd-Webber, Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho and Baron Foster of Thames Bank to star in a Strictly Come Dancing Christmas special. Tony Hall has invited Andrew Lloyd Webber, Martha Lane Fox and Norman Foster to star in a Strictly Come Dancing Christmas special.” He hopes we will agree that “while the first does have a kind of absurdist entertainment value, the second is more effective in communicating who and what we are actually talking about, which in a newspaper is quite important.” But it’s not easy. Here are a couple of paragraphs:
Our policy for several years has been that when referring to peers we call them simply Lord Emsworth, say, at first mention, and thereafter simply Emsworth. But the policy is impossible to apply consistently and credibly. Lord Hall, for example, the BBC director general, is known by one and all (except, perhaps, for a few anti-BBC headbangers on rightwing newspapers) as Tony. Referring to Lloyd Webber as Lord Lloyd-Webber (yes, he gained a hyphen along with his peerage) sounds silly, if not as silly as calling the This is Spinal Tap, writer and star Christopher Guest, by his title,”5th Baron Haden-Guest”.
A further problem is that, since the explosion in the number of life peers when Tony Blair lost his nerve halfway through reforming the House of Lords, there are so many of them – about 700. So “Lord Smith” could be any one of four people: Baron Smith of Finsbury, Baron Smith of Leigh, Baron Smith of Kelvin, or Baron Smith of Clifton.
He quotes GK Chesterton to good effect (“Journalism largely consists of saying ‘Lord Jones is Dead’ to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive”) and comes to a sensible conclusion. I look forward to seeing what AJP (aka Lord Caper of Noreg) has to say about all this.