Thursday, April 07, 2011
Britain's gilded political elite, hypocrisy and the death of social mobility
So here we go again. Making Britain fairer and improving social mobility, declared Nick Clegg before his bid to stamp out unpaid internships blew up in his face, is the Government’s ‘overriding mission’. Life, he said, should be about ‘what you know, not who you know’. You wonder, though, whether he thinks that principle should apply to politicians, as well as to the rest of us.
Within hours the Deputy Prime Minister was fighting off accusations of hypocrisy, with critics pointing out that he got his first internship after intervention from his father, the head of the United Trust Bank. Even his first job only came after Lord Carrington, a family friend, put in a good word with the European Commissioner Leon Brittan.
There is no doubt that the death of social mobility in modern Britain, one of the most unequal societies in Europe, is a matter of extreme urgency. But with their loose talk of imposing quotas for state school pupils on universities, and their ham-fisted efforts to crack down on internships, our political masters are in danger of turning a desperately serious issue into a farce.
Behind the fuss of the past few days, however, lies a deeper and more troubling reality. For Mr Clegg is far from unusual: inside Westminster’s gilded Oxbridge elite, his CV looks positively normal. Indeed, if Mr Clegg wants to see the principle of ‘who you know’ in operation, he should take a look at the self-satisfied faces around the Cabinet table.
He might ask the Chancellor, George Osborne, how he landed his job at Conservative Central Office after leaving Oxford — the answer being that his pal George Bridges, a political journalist, put in a good word for him.
Then there is the Prime Minister, who once claimed that he got ahead through ‘sharp elbows’, but who actually owes his rise almost entirely to birth, breeding and contacts. Even before going up to Oxford, David Cameron had worked as a researcher for a Tory MP — who just happened to be his godfather. He got his job in PR at Carlton Television through his mother-in-law, Lady Astor, who asked the TV mogul Michael Grade to give him a break. Most famously, he got his job at the Conservative Research Department only after an anonymous phone call from Buckingham Palace. ‘I am ringing to tell you,’ the mysterious caller said, ‘that you are about to meet a truly remarkable young man.’
Look across the House of Commons, though, and the story is no better. Absurd though it now seems, there was once a time when the Labour Party called itself the People’s Party, its benches crammed with former miners and manual workers. These days its leader, Ed Miliband, is the son of a Marxist academic, bred in the high-minded intellectual salons of North London and educated, naturally, at Oxford. His first experience of work was as an intern for Tony Benn, who, yet again, just happened to be a family friend.
As for Labour’s deputy leader, Harriet Harman, it is the same old story. Her uncle, the Earl of Longford, was a Labour minister under Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson. And Harman herself, the self-proclaimed champion of equality, actually went to St Paul’s Girls’ School, one of the most exclusive establishments in the country.
For those of us who wish that our political classes actually represented the people, this is a sorry tale indeed. But it merely reflects a wider picture. Between 1964 and 1997, not only had every British Prime Minister been educated at a grammar school, but many came from distinctly humble working-class backgrounds. Yet out of 119 Coalition ministers today, 66 per cent went to public schools, compared with only 7 per cent of the general public.
And only last year, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that one revealing indicator of social mobility — the difference between parents’ and children’s incomes — is worse in Britain than almost anywhere else in Europe.
For anybody who wants to live in a fair and aspirational society, these figures are a source of deep shame. What is really damning, though, is not only that inequality actually got worse during New Labour’s 13 years, but that the Coalition seems intent on repeating the last government’s mistakes.
The hypocrisy of privileged politicians haranguing the rest of us about ‘sharp elbows’ is bad enough. To make matters worse, they seem convinced that merely by announcing some new ‘initiative’ — the political equivalent of waving a magic wand — they can somehow make everything right.
This internships business is a case in point. Although they are abused by those lucky enough to have connections, unpaid internships are a symptom, not a cause, of a deeper social imbalance. Forcing companies to hold competitions and interviews would merely scratch the surface of the problem.
Even more alarming are the Coalition’s threats to our top universities. Now that their tuition-fee reforms have turned into an outright fiasco, with universities queuing up to charge the maximum £9,000, Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have started muttering about forcing institutions to admit lower-achieving students from poor backgrounds.
All this is irresistibly reminiscent of Gordon Brown’s boorish behaviour during the Laura Spence affair, when he complained that Oxford academics had discriminated against a bright working-class girl from the North-East. Later, it emerged that she merely lost out to equally brilliant candidates from a wide range of backgrounds.
In fact, both Oxford and Cambridge already expend vast efforts on access schemes to encourage applications from poor children in state schools, as do many other top universities.
The fact is that like internships, universities merely reflect society’s existing inequalities. Turning them into blunt instruments of social engineering, as the Coalition seems determined to do, would merely pervert and destroy some of the few world-class institutions we have left.
In any case, as far as social mobility itself is concerned, all this is basically irrelevant. If the Government really wants a fair and mobile society, it should forget about channelling young people into pointless Media Studies degrees and concentrate on two things: schools and jobs.
As David Davis, one of the few Tory MPs from a council-estate background, pointed out yesterday, our education system abjectly fails to provide opportunities for bright working-class children. And such views are not confined to the political Right.
'By getting rid of grammar schools politicians have forced upon the state sector a system of enforced downward mobility'
The Left-wing historian Tony Judt, who died last year, went to a grammar school in Wandsworth in the early 1960s. In his posthumous memoir, Judt wrote that the abolition of the grammar schools was one of the worst mistakes the Left ever made. ‘Intent on destroying the selective state schools that afforded my generation a first-rate education at public expense,’ he wrote, ‘politicians have forced upon the state sector a system of enforced downward mobility.’
It was a disgrace, this old socialist added, that the gap between private and state schools was greater than at any time since the Forties. And it was no wonder given that imbalance, he thought, that the Coalition Cabinet is dominated by public schoolboys.
But schools are only half the battle. What really ensured social mobility during the relatively golden years of the Fifties and Sixties was the fact that working-class children went into decent jobs in manufacturing industries, where they could work their way up the ladder. The dignity of work may be a mystery to some of our MPs. But it made a real difference to millions of lives in the post-war decades, offering a chance for ordinary people to get on.
Not all of these people were socially mobile. Many were proud to call themselves working class. Honest, hard-working and productive, they were the backbone of Britain’s economy for decades, until our great industries collapsed in the Seventies and Eighties.
So if the Government is really serious about creating a fair society, it should cut out the social engineering initiatives, stop meddling with higher education, restore genuinely high standards to the state school system, and invest in apprenticeships and infrastructure to rebuild our manufacturing sector.
Give people a good education and make sure there will be decent jobs for them afterwards, and you are halfway to a truly egalitarian society.
Without those things, you can launch all the initiatives you want. But like most of our privileged politicians’ promises, none of them will be worth the paper they are written on.
Ministers promise a 'red tape revolution' to get rid of pointless rules and regulations in Britain
Good if it happens
David Cameron and Vince Cable will today invite people to rip up thousands of ‘pointless’ rules and regulations holding back enterprise.
The pair will promise a ‘red tape revolution’ in favour of small business, arguing regulations brought in over the last decade are costing as much as five per cent of national income.
Members of the public, businesses and voluntary organisations are being invited to tear up some of the 21,000 existing rules that are getting in their way.
Ministers have already identified a string of bizarre rules, including ones prohibiting the setting of a price when reselling a bed, restrictions on the sale of liqueur-flavoured chocolates and a four-second time limit on the sounding of ice cream van chimes.
They say many regulations are widely ignored, while others are badly designed and should have been scrapped years ago.
The Prime Minister last night wrote to all Cabinet ministers telling them they have three months to explain why a regulation in their area is still required, or it will be scrapped.
Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Mr Cable will tell the British Chambers of Commerce annual conference today that he realised wars on red tape were ‘as old a theme as regulation itself’.
But he will insist: ‘We want to be the first government in history to leave office having reduced the overall burden of regulation, not increased it.’
‘The problem is that to the experienced practitioner – from the civil servant drafting the language, through the inspector visiting premises, down to the lawyers weighing in during a dispute, the rules can seem to make sense,’ he will add.
‘For people whose job is regulation, there doesn’t seem to be a problem. And if they are the only people we talk to, we won’t see the problem, and it will just get worse.
‘That is why we are launching a website to contact directly the people who understand best what the costs of regulation are. In other words, you. ‘We shall display, sector by sector, the stock of regulations on the basis that if it cannot be justified it should lapse.
‘Surely, within the 21,000 statutory instruments we counted there are regulations that have come to their natural end. Do we really need regulations as specific as the ‘Indication of Price (Beds) Order’? ‘The presumption will be clear: regulations will be presumed guilty unless proven innocent.’
The coalition has implemented a three-year moratorium on any new regulation from any government department affecting firms with ten employees or fewer. Sunset clauses, introducing a built-in time-limit, are to be included in any new regulations.
The initiative came as Nick Clegg’s plans to encourage new fathers to take more time off work came under attack from Mr Cameron’s former adviser on red tape.
Former Tory Cabinet minister Lord Young of Graffham said the plans to allow fathers to take up to 10 months of paternity leave if the mother goes back to work would be damaging for small businesses.
He said: ‘You don’t have to make (maternity leave) interchangeable. Why should men take time off?
‘No, they can leave things how they are. What I would think would be extremely difficult is to have extended leave going to the men as well.’
Earlier this year Mr Clegg said existing rules on paternity leave ‘patronise women and marginalise men’. He said parents should be free to divide up parental leave between them as they see fit.
New rules allowing parents to share up to six months of parental leave came into force last weekend. Mr Clegg wants to extend this to allow fathers to take up to 10 months off.
But businesses have warned that the new system will place a huge burden on them. A survey by the British Chambers of Commerce found that more than half of firms thought the new parental leave rules would be ‘detrimental’ to their business.
RED TAPE MADNESS
* The Indication of Prices (Beds) order 1978 which prevents people from specifying a price when re-selling a bed; Article 2 of the Order states that “a person who indicates that a bed is or may be for sale by him shall not indicate a price at which another person buying it may sell it”.
* Code of Practice on Noise from Ice Cream Van Chimes, 1982 makes it an offence to sound chimes for longer than four seconds at a time, more often than once every three minutes, when the vehicle is stationary, when in sight of another ice-cream van which is trading, within 50 metres of schools (during school hours), hospitals, and places of worship (on Sundays and any other recognised days of worship).
* The Licensing Act 2003 which prevents people under 16 years of age buying liqueur chocolate;
* The Amendment to the 1967 Wireless Telegraphy Act 1967 which obliges retailers to notify TV Licensing of any sales or rentals of television sets;
* The Pedal bicycles (safety) regulations 2010 which compel all bikes sold in the UK to be fitted with a bell; and
* Various orders prohibiting companies from ‘Trading with the Enemy’ dating from when countries like French Indo-China were enemies.
Homosexuals have been discriminated against for a long time
Revulsion against them appears to be natural
Five thousand years after he died, the first known gay caveman has emerged into the daylight. According to archaeologists, the way he was buried suggests that he was of a different sexual persuasion.
The skeleton of the late Stone Age man, unearthed during excavations in the Czech Republic, is said to date back to between 2900 and 2500 BC.
During that period, men were traditionally buried lying on their right side with the head pointing towards the west; women on their left side with the head facing east.
In this case, the man was on his left side with his head facing west. Another clue is that men tended to be interred with weapons, hammers and flint knives as well as several portions of food and drink to accompany them to the other side.
Women would be buried with necklaces made from teeth, pets, and copper earrings, as well as domestic jugs and an egg-shaped pot placed near the feet. The ‘gay caveman’ was buried with household jugs, and no weapons. Archaeologists do not think it was a mistake or coincidence given the importance attached to funerals during the period, known as the Corded Ware era because of the pottery it produced.
From history and ethnology, we know that people from this period took funeral rites very seriously so it is highly unlikely that this positioning was a mistake,’ said lead researcher Kamila Remisova Vesinova. ‘Far more likely is that he was a man with a different sexual orientation, homosexual or transvestite. What we see here does not add up to traditional Corded Ware cultural norms.’
An oval, egg-shaped container usually associated with female burials was also found at the feet of the skeleton.
Another member of the archaeological team, Katerina Semradova, said that colleagues had uncovered an earlier case dating from the Mesolithic period where a female warrior was buried as a man.
She added that Siberian shamans, or witch doctors, were also buried in this way but with richer funeral accessories appropriate to their elevated position in society. ‘This later discovery was neither of those. We believe this is one of the earliest cases of what could be described as a transvestite or third-gender grave in the Czech Republic.’
Whom Are We Fighting For?
On March 20, Pastor Terry Jones, who heads a congregation of 30 at his Dove World Outreach Center church in Gainesville, Fla., conducted a mock trial of the Quran "for crimes against humanity."
Pronouncing Islam's sacred book guilty, Jones soaked a Quran in kerosene and set it ablaze in a portable fire pit.
Few noticed. But Hamid Karzai did.
On March 24, the president of Afghanistan, our presumed ally in the war with al-Qaida and the Taliban, condemned this "crime against the religion and the entire Muslim nation," called on the United States to bring Jones to justice and demanded "a satisfactory response to the resentment and anger of over 1.5 million Muslims around the world."
Thus the firebrand here is not just Jones, who perpetrated the sacrilege, but Karzai, who made certain his countrymen knew what happened 10,000 miles away and four days before.
Friday, after prayers in Mazer-e-Sharif, a mob, inflamed by imams denouncing Jones, descended on the U.N. compound. When they left, seven U.N. employees lay dead, two reportedly beheaded.
President Obama denounced Jones' "act of extreme intolerance and bigotry," and added that "to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous and an affront to human dignity and decency."
Gen. David Petraeus deplored the Quran-burning as "hateful, disrespectful and enormously intolerant."
Still, on Saturday, rioters waving Taliban flags and shouting "Death to America" and "Death to Karzai" went on a rampage in Kandahar that ended with nine Afghans dead and 80 injured when they tried to march on the U.N. compound and security troops fired on them.
Three more were killed Sunday as riots continued in Kandahar and spread to Jalalabad. Forty more suffered gunshot wounds.
Petraeus then met with Karzai, who issued a new statement demanding that "the U.S. government, Senate and Congress clearly condemn (the Rev. Jones') dire action and avoid such incidents in the future."
In short, our ally seized this opportunity to rub America's nose in what the Rev. Jones did, as though the U.S. government, whose highest civilian and military officials had condemned Jones, is morally culpable for not preventing his Quran-burning and not punishing him for it.
Nor is this sufficient. Henceforth, the U.S. government is to police its citizenry to ensure no such anti-Islamic sacrilege takes place again.
Intending no disrespect, who do these people think they are?
Undeniably, it was an incendiary insult to a religion professed by almost a fourth of the world's people for Jones to do what he did. But what does this murderous reaction to a book-burning tell us about the people for whose right of self-determination Americans are fighting and dying in Afghanistan?
Candidly, it affirms what we already knew.
Many Afghans believe beheading or stoning is the right response to an insult to Islam. And not only that. Five years ago, Abdul Rahman, an Afghan convert to Christianity, faced the death penalty for apostasy and was forced to flee his own country.
In some Muslim countries, death is the prescribed punishment for Muslims who convert, for Christians who seek converts and for any who insult Islam, like that Danish cartoonist who sketched a caricature of the Prophet with a fused bomb for a turban.
Stoning is also seen as proper punishment for women who commit adultery.
In Pakistan recently, the governor of Punjab and the Cabinet minister for religious minorities, both Catholics, were assassinated. Why? Both had opposed a law under which a Christian woman had been sentenced to death after some farmhands accused her of blasphemy.
The governor was murdered by his own bodyguard, who was then hailed by 500 religious scholars who urged all Muslims to boycott the governor's funeral ceremony, as he had gotten what he deserved.
In the last two years, Christians have been burned alive by Muslims in Gorja, Pakistan, and by Hindu extremists in Orissa, India. Christian churches have been torched and scores of the faithful massacred on holy days in Iraq and Egypt. Few of these atrocities have received the media attention of the Rev. Jones' stupid stunt or the Danish cartoonist's irreverent scribbles.
Before America sends more of her sons to die for the freedom of Arabs and Muslims, perhaps we ought to have a better idea of what these folks intend to do with that freedom. For across that Muslim world, the faith that created our world, Christianity, is being persecuted and in some sectors annihilated.
To neocons and liberal interventionists, the goal of U.S. foreign policy should be to use our wealth and power to advance freedom until the whole world is democratic. Only then can we be secure.
But if democracy means rule by the people, ought we not to inquire a little more closely what it is these people, down deep, really want, before we bleed and bankrupt ourselves to win it for them?
Maybe Hosni Mubarak had a point.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.