Saturday, January 29, 2011

political masters

I watched Andrew Neil’s “Posher+Posher: Why Public School Boys Rule Britain” on BBC iPlayer earlier today. Fascinating stuff – set against the backdrop of having 75% of the coalition cabinet being millionaires and most of the top jobs in all parties being sewn up by public school or Oxbridge graduates. Neil’s programme tried to examine why, after a succession of state school-educated prime ministers (Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major), we have returned to a 1950s political elite. Neil (like me, from a grammar school background) came very close to calling for the reinstatement of a two-tier education system – making a straight correlation between the arrival of comprehensive secondary education and the rebirth of the English political elite. It makes all the stuff about us being “in it together” sound somewhat hollow! I was certainly struck by a comment from a pupil of Westminster School who was already talking about the “social networking benefits” that being part of the school brought (I can’t recall any of the pupils at my school making similar claims!). Neil also spoke to the Tory backbencher and wealthy Somerset landowner Jacob Rees-Mogg, who laughingly declared: "I am a man of the people; Vox populi, vox dei". You just HAVE to laugh!
I’m a firm believer in the comprehensive system (potentially raising the expectations of all school children, rather than consigning all but the “best” 20% of teenagers to the somewhat limited expectations of a secondary modern). I would, however, acknowledge that this rather plays into the hands of those with political ambitions whose families can afford to send them to the best public schools and perhaps therefore be more likely to gain an Oxbridge education (with some notable exceptions).
Are we really going to have to accept that most of our future leading politicians will emerge from the predictable line of a cultivated sense of entitlement, social networking and a financial cushion that enables the ambitious to work for next to nothing as special parliamentary advisers in the hope of getting parachuted into a safe parliamentary seat in due course (without any experience of the “real world”)?
I have to say that, with the return of this so-called political elite and the influential world of media magnates, I find it all a quite depressing state of affairs. Is there another way? Will future leaders come from the world of political journalism or the arts (poets, writers) or the trade unions (I now see why establishments such as Ruskin College, Oxford came into being)?
Suddenly, it all becomes clear… in this world of “popular celebrity culture”(!), the only alternative route for grooming future UK political leaders will be from the worlds of show business and sport! Perhaps Cheryl Cole or Simon Cowell or Sir Alex Ferguson or David Beckham or maybe even Stephen Fry?

Stephen Fry?… now there’s a thought (oh no, perhaps not: public school, Cambridge etc)!

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