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Posh politicians and not-so-posh politicians who actually do things

How do they do it? To be more exact and honest, how do we do it? Some of us, that is to say. I am referring to the mysterious tenacity of poshly educated people in British politics. Tony Blair went to a posh school. Now it looks odds on that the Conservatives will pick another posh, after a generation of not-so-poshes, starting with Edward Heath. Why? What is the magic that the canniest and most ruthless of us public school educated people which keeps the most prominent of our kind so prominent?

Part of it is that the education of the non-posh majority has, in Britain, been severely damaged, in the name of advancing the non-poshes. That is certainly part of the story.

But I think that another quality that people like David Cameron manage to exude � honestly or dishonestly, it really does not matter which � is: humility. Personally I tend to find this type insufferable, which may be because I got to know these people close up when they were still perfecting their personas, and in some cases before they were even trying and were just being pure bastards. The nastier the bastard, the thicker the veneer of humility that they later glue on, in my experience. But if you are not intimately acquainted with these nice, nice chaps, that humble act can fool you. Plus, in a few cases, the humility is genuine and was there from the start. Anyway, Cameron’s type radiates the notion that he only got where he is by being very lucky. The cards he was dealt made Cameron what he is, Cameron seems to say. Without these cards, the undoubted skill with which he played the cards he did get would have availed him nothing. One, you know, does one’s best, but one has been fortunate, extremely fortunate.

The trouble with the meritocrats whom the likes of Blair and Cameron come up against is that they seem to believe that they merit their cratness. They deserve it. Gordon Brown, for example, suggests to me a man who not only thinks that himself to be an excellent Chancellor of the Exchequer, but also a man who thinks that he deserves to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and for that matter deserves to be Prime Minister, instead of recognising with his every public word and gesture that he also needed a hell of a lot of luck to get anywhere near either job. Do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that these people do not work twenty hour days, day after day after day, year after year, and study the grease on their greasy pole with obsessive attention. But you can work fifty brilliantly accomplished hours every day of your life and still not be Prime Minister or now, anything near it, if you are, to note just one of many uncontrollable political disabilities, bald. Or if the hair you do have is ginger. Maybe those rules will change, but for now, there they are. My point is that maybe, yes, there is a sense in which Gordon Brown deserves everything he has had, and may still have coming. But the same applies to thousands of others just as deserving, who came nowhere near to his eminence.

Democratic politics is an extraordinarily flooky business. Timing, for instance, is everything. One basic reason why Cameron looks like winning the Conservative leadership is that he is younger than his rivals. All of them, but not he, are members of a fatally tainted generation of Conservatives who did well, or who thought they would do well, or who are thought to have thought that they would do well � who enjoyed � Thatcherism. Smug bastards, screw the whole damn lot of them, is the view of the electorate. All the expensively educated charm in the world would have been of no use to Cameron if he had been ten years older than he is, and had spent his early political years feeling � or merely looking � smug about being a member of Thatcher’s Conservative Party.

I deliberately did not read this article by Matthew Parris before writing the above about Cameron. I but now have. Parris notes that the toffs are back, but does not really say why.

I have already explained some of why toffs can be more likeable, but why is mere likeability now considered important? As Parris points out, for a generation before Blair, it was not. Ghastly nouveau riche meritocratic peasants dominated the Conservatives for several decades. And Labour has not been in the habit of picking obviously posh leaders, not since Ramsay MacDonald. Only now are the toffs “back in the saddle”. What gives?

I think it is that the British now believe that they can afford the luxury of only paying attention to likeable leaders. David Cameron, you might say, is a bet on Britain continuing to have a quiet life of genteel decline, with no events.

But if there is a job to be done, such as trade unions to be crushed and national bankruptcy to be dodged, a war to be won, a welfare state to be built, then disliked or socially inept leaders elbow their annoying and embarrassing way to the top and do whatever needs to be done. Thatcher had her silly voice lessons and her all round overbearingness, quite aside from the amazing handicap of being female. Churchill and Attlee, so different in so many ways, also had unlikeability in common. Churchill, although educated as a toff, was ludicrously over-the-top in manner until an over-the-top job (thwarting Adolf Hitler) hove into view and rescued him from ludicrousness, while Attlee was so far under the top as to be invisible, as Churchill in particular loved to piont out. But they each got their various jobs done, and were then dumped as soon as they had done them, the Churchill and Attlee jobs having been laid end to end.

But when there is nothing important to be done, toffdom is reinstalled, in the person first of the sanctified post-war Churchill, of Eden, and then when that went wrong too, Harold Macmillan. And now, we have nice Tony Blair, the Hugh Grant of British politics, and Labour’s answer to Macmillan.

The Wilson/Heath/Callaghan period can now be understood as a series of attempts to do what Thatcher finally did do, namely “get Britain moving”, as Wilson put it, with Callaghan foolishly imagining that a kind of Old Labour toffdom (“What crisis?”) was relevant and sufficient, when it was neither.

But now, it is believed, we are back to an age of post-ideological calm, or settlement, during which a nice guy who did not do the ideology can surrender to that ideological settlement, gracefully. Hence Tony Blair. And Cameron is the Conservative Party’s way of acknowledging that niceness now counts for more than getting anything done, or anything changed.

Interestingly, the prominent Conservative who now disagrees with this most strongly is Ken Clarke. On Europe I find Clarke repulsive, to which he has now added the vice of lying about being repulsive, which he at least used not to do. But of all the Conservative candidates in this leadership election, he has been the one most given to denouncing Gordon Brown and all his works. If the British people ever decide that they again need someone to get Britain moving, again, well, we know how Blair and Brown will fare. They will not. They are the ones now presiding, Macmillan style, over the slow-down. But would Cameron do any better? He is not the type.

Maybe these guys will barge through on the rails. Of the two pictured at the other end of that link, the first looks to be rather ginger, and the other � who seems happy to be known as Vince – is bald.

51 comments to Posh politicians and not-so-posh politicians who actually do things

  • Euan Gray

    What is the magic that the canniest and most ruthless of us public school educated people which keeps the most prominent of our kind so prominent?


    But now, it is believed, we are back to an age of post-ideological calm, or settlement

    A glance at political history shows that things tend to progress in fits and starts. After a period of unsettled, sometimes radical, change, comes a period of stability based around the new consensus. Looking at the past few decades, the consensus shifted leftward in the 1940s, was adjusted a little to the right in the early 1950s, and then there was stability for about 30 years. It shifted rightwards in the 1980s, was adjusted a little leftwards in the late 90s, and is again stable. In time it will shift again, but not right now.


  • Verity

    First, Brian, I do not think Blair comes across as “posh”. He comes across as an arriviste. In any event, Parris was not addressing the Labourites.

    Second, when I posted that piece by Matthew Parris yesterday, I was interested in what other Samizdata denizens might think because, as you pointed out, he never said why he thinks the Peasants’ Revolt is over. It is unsettling, though, that the Conservative MPs put their faith in an old Etonian rather than someone who came up by merit. One hopes that the Conservative membership is a little more grounded and far enough away from the girlish hysteria of Westminster to vote for Davis.

  • Public school pupils do well by definition,they come from families that are well off enough to send them there.They have the benefit familial networks which opens doors for them
    If an ex public school boy tells his family that he wants to go into politics,he isn’t told “If the clogworks were good enough for me and yer grandfather it’s good enough for you”
    All moder politicians live in a protective cocoon where they are found niches where the can pretend to work whilst further a political career.They spend their time networking and building a support base.
    A shinning example of this is the Rt hon Anthony Blair,never had a day job.

  • Verity

    Oh, Peter, I think such insularity and meanness of ambition are long gone in Britain! Everyone’s aspirational now. Certainly some public schoolboys have politically well-connected parents and certainly that is a hell of a leg up. But the universally acknowledged “it’s who you know” thread runs right through human society and non-public-school society is also full of connections, one way or another.

  • Verity,
    The plain fact is, some of us have to go to work,to eat,work is a prime inhibitor of ambition.So is having a young family.One has only to look at the huge underclass to realise the poverty of ambition in Britain in general
    I guarantee that anyone telling their parents that they wanted to be a MP would be greeted with,”What are you going to do until you are”

  • Verity

    Well, yes, Peter, but “trying to be a politician” isn’t a full time job until you actually get elected. Otherwise you do work for the party and cultivate the influential people in the party to whom you have managed to get introductions. Until you’re elected, you put food on the table by having a job like everyone else.

  • Johnathan

    Brian, interesting piece. One quibble: ginger hair. Robert Peel was a gingernut, and probably the greatest Tory statesman of the mid-Victorian age. Churchill was indeed over-the-top, but also a bit thin on top.

    I honestly don’t know whether some general trend can be pulled out of the Tories’ choice of Wonder Boy. It may be, I suspect, because the alternatives lack the alleged telegenic glitz factor.

    Blair is indeed quite posh and he is never more mockable than when trying to sound like a Newcastle Utd fan, dropping his aitches in patronising fashion.

  • Verity

    Jonathan – I don’t think Blair comes across as posh-posh. I know his father was/is a barrister, but he still has the greedy, sly air of an arriviste.

    Also, he has terribly unposh tastes.

  • The problem is Verity,that very few of the modern politicians have had proper jobs!

  • Verity

    Yes. I agree with you, Peter. That is an important, in fact lethal, weakness in our government, especially among the socialists. I think quite a few Conservatives have had proper jobs – although I don’t know for sure.

  • Johnathan

    Verity, this you will like this: Richard D. North has branded Blair as Britain’s first Chav Prime Minister. heh.

  • Verity

    Hmmm, Jonathan. I don’t think of Blair as a chav (Cherie, yes, definitely), but more as the sly little sneak.

  • Does it work for American politics:

    Bush II: toff, nice
    Clinton: non-toff, nice
    Bush I: toff, not nice
    Reagan: non-toff, nice
    Carter: non-toff, nice
    Nixon: non-toff, not nice

    Not really. Maybe it is easier to get ahead and remain human in the US.

    It seems to go back a bit further in the UK. Lloyd George only became PM when there was a real crisis.

    I can’t comment on Disraeli because I don’t know enough about him. But it would be fun if the toff/nice/shirker v non-toff/nasty/doer went back even further.

  • Blair isn’t a chav,Blair is Britains first double glazing salesman prime minister.

  • Blair is also the kind of public school wideboy found in the antiques trade.

  • Verity

    Peter – two direct hits! That public school wideboy in the antiques trade is an absolute bullseye.

  • mbe

    I’ve been reading this blog for a while but only commented for the first time in recent weeks and I’m seriously contemplating removing the RSS link!
    What a bunch of insufferable, inverted snobs! What the hell can Cameron do about being a ‘toff’, as you put it? Should he go and get a job sweeping streets to impress the ‘people’? Libertarians, my arse.
    Why can’t people be merited on what they do, surely that is meritocracy?
    With the greatest respect to Brian, anyone who offers 4 links to the Yellows (actually sort of yellow, more orangey but can’t make up their minds, as ever) doesn’t have a clue about liberty. 50% tax? ‘Thanks for working hard now bend over.’
    I’m not actually young enough to have directly enjoyed the benefits of Thacterism (I’m 26) as I’ve been shafted by the state ever since I turned 19 and started to work full-time. I only wish people, particularly on the left, would give some credit to Baroness Thatcher for the marvellous reforms she instigated. Blair/Brown would be up shit creek without them.
    My main point is that if you’re a libertarian you have to believe in the individual and slating Cameron (who’s been actively involved in politics for at least 15 years) is a classic demonstration of double standards.

  • mbe,
    Don’t you think you should stay,even if only as a missionary? Nothing was ever gained by turning your back on it.

  • Verity

    mbe – My god! Calm down! On an earlier topic about Cameron here (“Is Cameron a Hologram?”) we addressed what he may stand for. Some of us are puzzled by the sudden emergence of an OE and think it looks like one more desperation measure.

    The topic of being a bit of posh came up as the result of an article in The Times by Matthew Parris. Personally, like most people, I’m always charmed to my toes by OEs and would be perfectly happy with an OE prime minister if he stood for the same things I stand for. The worry with Cameron is, he doesn’t seem to stand for anything.

    There are many posters here, including me, none of whom are on the left, who are devout fans of Margaret Thatcher.

  • GCooper

    mbe writes:

    “Why can’t people be merited on what they do, surely that is meritocracy?”

    Which, in David Cameron’s case, is precisely what?

  • istr hearing that Margaret Thatcher was, at one point, the first (only???) British PM ever to have a cabinet without an Etonian in it

  • HJHJ


    I am alarmed by Cameron’s rise for the simple reason that I would far prefer someone who has real world (i.e competitive private sector) experience and substance. I far prefer Davis because not only does he have this, he is far more of a libertarian and is interested in how efficient free market solutions can be used to the benefit of the poorest in this country.

    I don’t see any of this in Cameron. Were he to become prime minister, I fear he would exhibit many of the faults of Blair – a propensity for government initiatives on everything, without realising that most of the country works in a totally different way than does westminster and that statist solutions are unlikely to work. The reason why Blair has got this wrong, and I think Cameron would too, is that understanding this is not just a question of intelligence. It is a question of what you have been exposed to in life – the understanding seeps into you by an osmosis-like process. Blair (and I suspect Cameron) are hugely naive in this respect and just cannot understand things which become obvious to most thinking people with real life experience.

  • GCooper

    I note my question to mbe about young master Cameron’s achievements has vanished into a deep, echoing silence.

    Meanwhile, I find myself in the unusual position of completely agreeing with HJHJ .

    It is troubling to think that the membership of the Conservative party could be so shallow as to fall for good looks (sic) and a facile manner. But it looks like they may well be.

  • Della

    I liked Camerron until I heard a Tony Blair liked him, then I noticed how Blairlike he was and went right off him. Not such a big fan of David Davis, but when he smiles he does look handsome, much nicer than his usual scowl anyway.

  • mbe

    Although I’m a Cameron supporter, I didn’t intend my first post to be solely about him but just the OE issue.

    GCooper: Aside from all the background poltical activity for the chancellor and home secretary, his much derided directorship and executive appointments at Carlton, it is fair to say Cameron’s cv doesn’t boast a string of successes. Which 39 year-olds does?

    HJHJ : Davies has been planning, scheming, campaigning and ‘encouraging’ supporters for his leadership for years. He’s as power hungry as Blair, which I find exceptionally unnerving.

  • mbe

    *Davis*, sorry must have been thinking of someone interesting.

  • Verity

    I too agree with HJHJ again. (It’s beginning to be a bit of a worry …) Davis is simply grittier. The man has substance. He has real thoughts and ideas. He has given serious consideration to the state Britain is in and how to pull it out of it. I don’t think Cameron has given any of this more than a couple of minutes consideration.

    Re Cameron, mbe writes: “Aside from all the background poltical activity for the chancellor and home secretary, his much derided directorship and executive appointments at Carlton, it is fair to say Cameron’s cv doesn’t boast a string of successes.”

    How damning in an aspirant prime minister.

    He adds: “Which 39 year-olds does?” Precisely. And this is what you want to run a country that is so economically unstable and has such a degraded civil society and corrupted public sector? A 39 year old with loads of charm and no achievements? No thank you!

    G Cooper – I don’t know. I referred above to the girlish hysteria of Westminster, and I don’t think it is necessarily reflected in the country at large. The concerns of the citizenry are different from those of Tory MPs, who just want to be in government. I hope so, anyway.

  • Della

    it is fair to say Cameron’s cv doesn’t boast a string of successes. Which 39 year-olds does?

    Bill Gates billionaire by the age of 31
    Albert Einstein formulated the theory of Relativity at age 36
    Tim Berners-Lee invented World Wide Web at age 36

    In comparison:
    Davis Cameron age 39- done nothing like that

  • mike

    I was somwhat baffled by this – a Tory toff getting a bear-hug from a drunken inner-city ‘bad boy’…

  • Verity

    (Link) Good! The more people who say in public, in all innocence, that Cameron is the new Tony Blair, the faster he will sink.

    And now he has admitted to snorting cocaine before he became an MP. Presumably, he thought the law didn’t apply to him. This will also turn a lot of people off him. He is fragile, wispy. There’s no substance there.

  • SD

    Verity, why do you think substance is what matters in electoral politics? Doesn’t the evidence suggest that style and presentation are what count for winning elections nowadays?

    What do posh politicians have? Charm for one thing – a case of shafting you with a smile. More seriously perhaps, it’s a case of feeling oneself born to rule which both gives them an inner confidence and makes them more relaxed. Even more important the rest of us are programmed by many years of history to respond positively to an apparently casual air of command and certain stylistic tics – it prompts us to think “Good, the proper chaps are in charge”. It also helps strangely that most realise that behind that charm they’re ruthless bastards. I think this is what Parris was talking about, the tail wagging reflexes of the English middle classes when confronted with a genuine toff.

    I think the Conservative Party has just about recovered from its infection with ideology and ideas and has reverted to its normal state, i.e. a single minded pursuit of power guided mainly by instinct.

  • Verity

    SD – Yes and no. I think Britons have had enough of style with no substance after the Tony Blair train wreck. This election may one of the rare ones where substance is going to count. David Cameron still hasn’t mentioned what his ideas, if any, are.

    I see William Rees-Mogg seems to have come out for Cameron, but not because of his policies, if any. But because he is related to his friend Ferdinand Mount, who’s titled, and they’re all part of some vast, ancient, achieving family with lots of famous people in there.

    I dunno. It may be that the British voters will feel it needs “officer material”, so to speak, to sort out the mess of the last 10 years. Someone who can bark out commands, but charmingly. It may well be that they’ll go for a toff for those reasons, despite his having no coherent programme – or even having given any indication that he understands what has gone wrong under the Blair regime.

    They may buy a pig in a poke, given its a posh pig, but I think they are fools if they do. I think David Davis is more thoughtful, more aware, has more grit and will have a steadier hand on the tiller.

  • GCooper

    Verity writes:

    “But because he is related to his friend Ferdinand Mount, who’s titled, and they’re all part of some vast, ancient, achieving family with lots of famous people in there.”

    Yes, quite a few of the worst sort of Telegraph Tories (to whom Mount is a recent and far from impressive recruit) seem to have a similar disposition – no doubt for similar reasons. ‘He’s one of us!’

    One good note is that the hapess, hopeless Major is claiming the Tory right has been routed and what a good thing this is.

    If it was intended as a plug for Cameron, he could just have swung it for Davis. Clearly, he seems to have no idea in what contempt he is held.

  • Julian Taylor

    Della, that’s very unfair. To try and compare Cameron with someone like Gates or Einstein is, putting it very mildly, ridiculous in the extreme. Perhaps you should aim your ire at the Labour cabinet, where less than 3 of them have ever held down a real job, albeit a very very long time ago (Prescott’s last job was in the 1950’s as steward on the Queen Mary), while David Cameron, on the other hand, has actually held a proper job in corporate communications. It seems to me that if Cameron was a multi-billionaire then someone on Samizdata would be carping at the poor soul for being rich.

    Oh, and having gone to a public school in the UK does not, contrary to the considered opinion, make you some kind of privileged chinless wonder. There are private schools in the UK that would cost you far less to send your children to than a state school would cost. Someone I know sent both his kids to Christ’s Hospital and never fails to let me know that the cost of their entire education was the princely combined sum of £97 for 6 years schooling – the school even paid for the children’s pocket money!

  • Euan Gray

    There are private schools in the UK that would cost you far less to send your children to than a state school would cost.

    Eton is not one of them, though…


  • GCooper

    Julian Taylor writes:

    “… while David Cameron, on the other hand, has actually held a proper job in corporate communications. .


  • SD

    I did think the Mogg’s comments were simply beyond parody “Splendid chap, excellent breeding, one of his ancestors was Lord High Treasurer before we brought the Germans in” etc. Makes you wish we had had a proper bourgeois revolution. However I do think there are actually electoral and political benefits to being one of the traditional ruling class, either directly or by adoption. You just get cut much more slack than if you are a middle class type like Thatcher – for one thing most of the commentariat are fearful snobs, particularly the left wing ones.

    I think there’s two questions about Cameron, given that almost nothing is known about him. One is what his views are, the other is what his personal qualities are. The two are quite distinct and need to be kept so. I think we’ll get some idea about his views over the next few weeks and I suspect they’re pretty much mainstream post-Thatcher conservative, he just has a particular notion of how to sell them. As to his personal quality – there’s no way of finding out in such a short time is there? The one thing we can say is he is very, very ambitious and hungry for power – but how many politicians are not?

  • Verity

    SD – Yes, indeed. All the way through the piece, I was waiting for him to address Cameron’s qualities and his programme, if any. Instead it was a curriculum vitae of his entire family back to the Norman Conquest. I kept waiting for him to get to the point, but there wasn’t one. Just that Cameron is from a family that has been famous for absolute yonks. Most peculiar.

    If he gets in, the top wallahs in the CS will be beside themselves with happiness to have one of their own, at last! And they won’t try to thwart his programmes, if any.

    If the Tories get back in under Cameron, at least we will have the very great pleasure of seeing the vile Ruth Kelly kicked out on her fat arse, by an OE.

    But Mr David will make the best prime minister.

  • HJHJ

    Perhaps Gcooper and Verity are mellowing (no offence meant)?

    The Eton question: I send my daughter to an independent school, quite simply because I don’t consider the government competent to make decisions on her education – I wish everyone else had the same choice. So you can see that I am not against independent schools (quite the opposite) in general or Eton in particular, and I imagine that it is a truly excellent school.

    But the fact remains that the prevalence of old etonians in high positions in this country is quite disproportionately high, even taking the general excellence of the school and its pupils into account. To put it simply, the old boy network still exists to a large extent. This does not mean that etonians should be discriminated against in seeking public appointment, just that we are entitled to examine carefully whether they have got into positions through merit or whether they have ‘risen without trace’ due to their contacts. The fact that Cameron’s only job outside parliament appears to have been in corporate communications (PR) makes me highly suspicious.

    [I should admit my interest here: I am a chartered marketer from an engineering background and I have always found that corporate marcoms/PR departments are full of wasters that understand little about the companies they work for, have no part in the management process and understand little of the markets in which their company operates. They are nearly always separate from the real marketing departments whose job it is to work out how to identify and satisfy markets profitably. I was once talking to a receptionist at a previous company – a conversation which was constantly interrupted by incoming calls. It quickly became obvious that the receptionist was connecting calls from potential customers (i.e. those that didn’t know who, by name, they wanted to talk to) through to the vacuous marcom/PR manager by default. I was horrified and quickly supplied her with a list of real marketing managers who could actually help the customers with questions about particular product groups ].

    Davis, on the other hand, has held several real positions in industry without any of the advantages of schooling or contacts. This is not a guarantee of merit, as there are plenty of pole-climbing brown nosers in industry, but it is a far more likely indicator.

  • HJHJ

    Incidentally Verity, how do you know that Ruth Kelly has a fat arse?

    I would very much like to meet her and pose the following question: “What makes you think that decisions on educating children are best made by you rather than by individual parents?”

    She is a vacuous social engineer and the sooner she is gone, the better.

  • (Ginger) Liz

    But you can work fifty brilliantly accomplished hours every day of your life and still not be Prime Minister or now, anything near it, if you are, to note just one of many uncontrollable political disabilities, bald. Or if the hair you do have is ginger.

    Maggie Thatcher was ginger. And though Robin Cook wasn’t PM or anything near it, he was much-loved and much-publicised by the media (and, if we are to believe what they all said at his funeral, his colleagues). He was ginger. A little ginger gnome.

    Anyone who has to work 50 hours out of 24 doesn’t need the added pressure of running the country, surely?!

  • dunderheid

    Only in UK would a discussion about an aspiring politician revolve so heavily about class. Its faintly depressing actually.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    HJHJ writes that the influence of OE’s is disproportionate. Hmm. To be honest, the last few years seem to have been a period where it was almost a handicap to have a posh accent and to be middle class. Cultivating downwards, as Theodore Dalrymple has written, has been the tone. I honestly don’t know how you measure all this, mind.

    BTW, some people have been bitchy about Cameron’s background in corporate communications. Well, I have had to deal with a lot of such folk in my time. Some are pretty dumb and failed journalists; the best of them do a fine job and a pretty demanding one. They are by no means all dunces. Avoid generalisations (yes I know we all do it).

  • GCooper

    Of ‘Corp Coms’ types, Johnathan Peace writes:

    “Well, I have had to deal with a lot of such folk in my time. ”

    What makes you think others haven’t?

    Forgive me if I ignore your imprecation about generalising. I’ve had to work with a lot of them, too, and the majority I have encountered in self-styled corporate communications have been glib and dim in varying proportions. Yes, there are exceptions – indeed, I’ve just got off the phone with a friend who does that very job supremely well for a large Canadian corporation – but he is, in my experience, very much an exception.

    Unfortunately (and yet again) HJHJ has already explained why and I see no need to duplicate his words.

    As for Cameron, I find it enormously had to take seriously an Old Etonian working in Corporate Communications for an outfit like Carlton. Any one of those might be bad enough – all three is a jackpot.

    Even were he to have been good at the job, I fail to see that it is any sort of qualification for the role of PM. A replacement for that maniac, Campbell, maybe, but not PM.

    The suggestion that it might be is absurd.

  • HJHJ


    OEs don’t necessarily have a posh accent and the vast majority of middle class people didn’t go to Eton, so I fail to see your point especially as there really is no demographic evidence to support it.

    In a competitive international industry, you are likely to get nowhere because you went to Eton (or any other particular school). But the are are a huge number of areas in this country where there is an entrenched ‘establishment’ and here connections (and my point about OEs was about connections, not about the educational merits or otherwise of a particular school) definitely help enormously.

  • HJHJ

    Dunderheid: Let’s make it clear – this is not a discussion about ‘class’. It is one about merit and whether Cameron got to his present position primarily through merit or patronage.

    Exactly the same issues occur in other countries.

  • Midwesterner

    Here in the ‘classless’ USA we have the ‘Skull and Bones’ and other Ivy league secret societies. Almost everyone knew that George W. Bush, his father George H.W. Bush and grandfather, George Herbert Walker were members.

    From a CBS News story

    “It is fascinating isn’t it? I mean, again, all the people say, ‘Oh, these societies don’t matter. The Eastern Establishment is in decline.’ And you could not find two more quintessential Eastern establishment, privileged guys,” says Rosenbaum. “I remember when I was a nerdy scholarship student in the reserve book room at, at the Yale Library, and John Kerry, who at that point styled himself ‘John F. Kerry’ would walk in.”


    We have our ‘Eastern Establishment’. It probably functions very similarly to your OE. And to similar effect.

  • Mary Contrary

    Plus, in a few cases, the humility is genuine and was there from the start.

    …or, at least, acquired and well-practised by the time they left Prep School.

  • Verity

    Midwesterner – No. Not really. I can’t explain it and don’t mean to be dismissive – but no.

  • Julian Taylor

    There is a pretty big difference in the attitudes between our perception and use of the US collegiate system and the British ‘public school network’.

    Many employers would, I would hazard, run a mile before employing a former member of, for example, Oxford’s Bullingdon Club (former members include the current Earl Spencer, Boris Johnson and the late Alan Clark … so you get the idea of what its like) while should Boris just mention that he attended Eton and Oxford, then that would be quite sufficient. Whatever ‘closed society’ exists within the school and university system is, I would surmise, pretty much limited to the Masonic lodges and liaison between other schools’ lodges.

  • mike

    Alan Clark! Contra the title of Brian’s post: a posh politician who actually did get a lot of things done (and undone)…!

    “…economic with the actualité’…”indeed!