I'm happy to see it go - both personally (for I was regularly attacked in the pages of its magazine for my linguistic views) and professionally (for we are no longer living in an age which accepts that a few self-appointed individuals can impose their personal linguistic tastes on everyone else). The QES claimed to be an organization that cared about standards, but its own usage - as seen for example on its website - was poor even by those standards. The letter which announced their demise contained several errors of grammar and punctuation, including the omission of commas and even of a sentence-final period! Geoff Pullum has done some excellent analysis of their grammatical infelicities here so I won't go any further into that.
I think people began to lose faith in the QES when it became apparent that much of what they were claiming was simply fantasy. They would assert, for example, that linguists like me say 'anything goes' and don't care about standards. This was simply a travesty. No linguist has ever said 'anything goes'. On the contrary, the whole basis of linguistics is to establish the rules governing language, and to define such notions as appropriateness in language variation. All linguists care about standards. All linguists care about clarity and precision. What linguists object to is the attempt by individuals to impose artificial and unauthentic rules on everyone - the kind that were repeatedly asserted in the pages of the QES magazine, and of course immediately disputed by its membership, who could never agree on such matters as whether it was right or wrong to split infinitives, end sentences with prepositions, begin sentences with 'and', and suchlike.
At its best, the QES performed a useful service, drawing attention to genuine instances of careless usage, ambiguity, and so on in the public domain. At its worst it showed a horrific intolerance of language diversity which at times bordered on racism. I'm remembering now an article in the Winter 2007 issue of their magazine, Quest. This is what was written:
'The vast variety of earthly languages is indeed an almost unmitigated curse. The fewer languages the better, and the world will be a far better place when everyone speaks the same language - or perhaps I had better be frank and say when everyone speaks English (and it will come). I think Crystal once said languages are dying at the rate of one a fortnight. If so, that's the best news I've heard in a long time, and long may it continue!'
This is the kind of extremism that gave the QES a bad name, and made some of its members uncomfortable. It ties in, of course, with its regular condemnation of non-standard usage in regional dialects. The periodical's back cover maintained that the views expressed in its pages were not necessarily those of the editor or of the Society - but in that case, we could delete 'not necessarily', as in the previous issue of Quest the editor himself had expressed the same opinions in a book review (which is what motivated the letter-writer). Talking about the views I represent on linguistic diversity, he asks 'do we really need it?' [diversity], and answers his own question with 'quite the contrary', and he goes on to say: 'when a language dies, what really is lost? Surely something is in fact gained if the speaker decides to drop, say, Karas and adopts English instead?' The ignorance of the expressive richness of other languages was truly breathtaking, but that was only to be expected from someone who affirmed 'the superior quality of the content of the English language'.
I think people got fed up with seeing endless personal opinions about what was thought to be bad usage (only rarely would we be given examples of good usage). The same tired issues surfaced over and over - most of which had been part of the prescriptive tradition of complaint for well over a century. The membership too must have sensed that it had passed its sell-by date, for they evidently didn't even care enough to stand for committee office - which is why the current committee decided to call it a day.
I'm glad it's gone. It means those of us who really care about usage will be able to get on with our job without being continually distracted by issues that are beside the point, as far as standards are concerned. The notion of clarity, for example, does indeed need explication - but clarity has very little to do with the kinds of topic that the QES focused upon. Rather, it requires reference to features of syntax (such as the way sentence weight operates) which would never be mentioned in the pages of the QES magazine. And there are many aspects of the way English is evolving which do require a properly informed public discussion, such as the character of the emerging 'new Englishes' around the world, the status of English as a global lingua franca, and the forms and functions of English on the Internet. This is the world we're living in, but it is not one that the QES seemed to like very much. It was time for it to go.