Let us end the day by reminding ourselves tonight that this is the twelfth year of the Twenty-first century. It’s a long time since infant orphans were shoved up dirty chimneys. It’s 175 years since a Duke was leader of the Conservative Party. It is 67 years since a landslide victory gave the Labour Party a clear majority government for the first time. It is 86 years since the Butler Education Act established grammar schools, and created the greatest (and fastest) social mobility in British history. It’s 118 years since non-property owners got the vote, over 80 years since domestic servants were commonplace, and 65 years since the first attempt by any government in the world to release its citizens from the fear of unaffordable medical bills.
When Lord Robert Cecil’s useless nephew was given some naval sinecure at the taxpayer’s expense 105 years ago, the Yellow Press remarked, “It’s alright if Bob’s yer uncle”. The phrase stuck, and ‘Bob’s yer uncle’ entered the English language as shorthand for a done deal.
Times have indeed changed. But some things haven’t.
Today, the Prime Minister David Cameron is on the record – in Hansard no less – as saying, “Look, I don’t mind admitting that I’m rather in favour of helping one’s children with a leg up”. He would be, given that he got his first job at Carlton Communications through his mother-in-law. Says a senior Carlton man at the time, “I thought he was a plank. I would’ve turned him down, but my boss got a call from mumsy-in-law, and that was that”.
The Prime Minister’s rival for the Premiership – and Conservative leadership – is the foul-mouthed exhibitionist bully Boris Johnson. So well in is BoJo with the non-dom unelected Telegraph-owning Barclay twins, he gets a column in the paper whenever he has something to say – and the front-page lead when he challenges Cameron about anything – eg, today’s banner headline about Johnson’s challenge to the PM over more runways at Heathrow.
Both these frontal-lobe driven twerps went to the same school: Eton. I’m all for elites that encourage excellence, but c’mon here, Eton College was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI as “The King’s College of Our Lady of Eton besides Wyndsor”. I mean, that’s 572 years ago.
So here we are in 2012 digital Britain, and the only two chaps with a serious chance of winning a national political pissing contest went to the same school as Robert Walpole, William Pitt, Lord North, the Duke of Wellington, Lord Melbourne, and the Earl of Derby. What all these gentleman not called either Cameron or Johnson have in common is that they became Prime Minister…and they were all born before 1800.
For God’s sake, that’s 212 years ago. The French Revolution was only eleven years old. George III still harboured hopes of getting the American colonies back. Napoleon was emerging from obscurity. Even Johnny Carson was a novice.
It seems to me that the choice facing the Conservative Party is whether to be the One Nation Party beloved of Disraeli the outsider…or the One School Party favoured by all those who prefer the idea of equality of Old Etonians to equality of opportunity…or even equality before the Law – aka, a meritocracy.
I would of course love to record here that Her Majesty’s Progressive Opposition wants that same meritocracy. But it doesn’t. Today, leftwingers have been mainly drivelling on about how few women there are in the ‘new’ Camerlot Cabinet. As a political grouping, they adhere to a different kind of leg up: the affirmative action in favour of people who perhaps can’t do the job, but do have the unfair advantage of being in an ethnic, gender or sexual orientation minority. I have for many years complained that I want to be the new lead singer of The Supremes, and it is a dibollockallibty that I keep being rejected simply because I’m not black, female, or capable of singing in tune.
David Cameron made a pledge in 2010 that a third of his Cabinet would be women. He was a mindless pillock for making that promise. Labour’s Harriet Harman wants to pass a law making equal gender representation in Cabinet obligatory. The last thing she would ever want to do is oblige a Tory, but in setting herself this deranged objective she adheres to precisely the same class bigotry: that the club membership is more important than the talent.
There is social class, the political class, the gender class, the minority class, and probably even the Class of ’68. But it all adds up to the same thing: unwarranted privilege. It remains the cancer in British society, and one of the greates shackles holding us back.