Dr Cable, I presume…

I was a wee bit amused by this story from the Spectator about Vince Cable:

Word reaches Steerpike that a number of staff working with the Business Secretary, who has a PhD in Economics, have been advised to refer to him strictly as Dr Vince Cable in written correspondence.

‘We were a bit surprised that Vince Cable won’t do as that’s what we are used to but it apparently has to be Dr Vince,’ a mole whispers.

A Liberal Democrats source says that far from coming as a request from the business secretary himself it’s official guidance that in formal correspondence politicians are referred to by their full title.

The reason I’m amused, apart from the fact that this is obviously another of those “there must be an election coming on” stories, is that I’ve always found Vince to be one of the least pompous politicians I’ve ever met.

Way back in 2005, he came up to Livingston to help in the by-election. He was one of the stars of our front bench, but he just got stuck in and got on with the work, going out canvassing in some shocking polling week weather. He stayed for two nights. I had to drive him to the airport on eve of poll. After he’d gone, we realised he’d left his mobile phone in the office. Now, there might have been some of our lot who would have expected us to drop everything and get it couriered to them immediately. Vince was perfectly relaxed about it, just asking us to give it to someone else to take back to London the next week.

Vince, in my experience, is not one for airs and graces. Unlike, for example, some leading lights in the Alliance when I was first involved who had an amazing capacity to look down their nose at you.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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14 Comments

  • stuart moran 20th Jan '15 - 10:29pm

    what is pompous about someone using a qualification that they have obtained?

    Noone seems to mind about medical doctors being referred to as ‘Doctor’ or ‘Professors’ being called that when they are just job titles and not qualifications (okay some medical doctors have PhD or MD but most are MB ChB

    In most other countries people are proud to have achieved a high level academic qualification…only in Britain does it seem otherwise and is indicative of our distrust of anyone who is educated. We love the ‘amateur’

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 20th Jan '15 - 10:33pm

    I think it’s always polite to give people their correct titles – that’s not what this story was about, though, and it was clear that the instruction was nothing to do with Vince.

  • stuart moran 21st Jan '15 - 4:52am

    Caron

    I understand that but even if it was Cable who wanted it to be the case then it shouldn’t matter

    The principle is that those of us who have higher research degrees are always made to feel ‘arrogant and pompous’ when using the titles that the study allows us to do. Most people I know do not use their titles for this reason, but if you are in Germany, for example, it would be considered very strange if you didn’t

    I remember an attack on Gordon Brown by the tabloids once for being referred to as ‘Doctor’

  • The former Labour MP and less than universally popular John Reid now goes by the name The Lord Reid of Cardowan.

    When he was Secretary of State for Health he insisted on being known as “Doctor” John Reid.

    His PhD was in economic history.
    His thesis — a Marxist critique — has a very lengthy title which ended with the words — “… about the political effects of the transition from the slave trade to palm oil commerce in the nineteenth century Kingdom of Dahomey”.

    To put this into context David Owen was often referred to as Dr Death.

  • But not because of anything to do with his skills as a medical practitioner, one hopes.

  • Dr Matthew Huntbach 21st Jan '15 - 9:38am

    I certainly don’t insist on my title being used, but having grown up facing class discrimination because of my working class background, just sometimes I find throwing it in for its shock value helps …

  • stuart moran

    The principle is that those of us who have higher research degrees are always made to feel ‘arrogant and pompous’ when using the titles that the study allows us to do. Most people I know do not use their titles for this reason, but if you are in Germany, for example, it would be considered very strange if you didn’t

    But in France only a medical doctor would call themselves ‘docteur’, somebody holding a doctorate would just use the letters PhD after their name…

    As do cultural contexts, in the USA it’s considered normal to be introduced as ‘Doctor’ when meeting someone outwith a professional context, in the UK such things are considered a little pompous. Vince calling himself ‘Dr Cable’ when meeting with economists, academics, business leaders and so on is quite different from insisting that constituents address him as such, etc.

  • stuart moran 21st Jan '15 - 4:56pm

    g

    All of us who have a PhD ask the question should we use ‘Dr.’ or not. For this fear of seeming pompous

    In the end though I fail to see why a medical doctor is considered less pompous although they use the title all the time and, in most cases, it is only a honorific as most do not possess any form of doctoral degree

    In reality, Dr is the correct form for those possessing a PhD and it would be considered polite to use it if known. Just as using Ms, Miss or Mrs correctly is polite. I, and most others, would never insist or correct people but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be used if known

    In a professional capacity though I would say it is obligatory – as in Dr Cable’s case. I once forgot to put Dr. in when presenting at a conference and I was the only one on the booklet referred to as Mr.

    In the end though my correct title is Dr. Moran – I do not insist on people using it and am not at all bothered if they don’t but it doesn’t stop it being my correct name

    As to your anecdote on France, I can tell you from my experience of working with and recruiting around 20-30 French PhD’s and they have all used Dr – where is your experience from?

    I am sorry if you think I, and others, are pompous but to be honest I am very proud of sticking with education for 20 years and doing the best I possibly could with very little reward afterwards to be honest!

  • stuart moran

    As to your anecdote on France, I can tell you from my experience of working with and recruiting around 20-30 French PhD’s and they have all used Dr – where is your experience from?

    Doing a post-doc in France. 🙂

  • stuart moran 21st Jan '15 - 6:32pm

    g

    well I have worked in a scientific company on the continent – perhaps things change when they get into the industrial world!

  • Matthew Huntbach nails it as usual! I tend to use it if I have to deal with the police, solicitors, the bank, and similar people whose default position towards ordinary members of the public is one of superiority or condescension. I still feel guilty about it though.

  • Jayne Mansfield 21st Jan '15 - 8:12pm

    If people have earned a qualification, I really don’t understand why they do not use it. Gaining a Phd is no mean achievement.

    I find some of modern informality presumptuous. I have visited elderly people in hospital and there is no consideration of what title they would like to be called by . The calling of very old people by their Forenames can seem deeply patronising to some. Far better that people err on the side of formality and wait for someone to say, please call me …….

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