Britain is a chumocracy, no matter what the Old Etonians might argue

Jesse Norman's appointment, and his explanation for it, leave much to be desired

Share

OK, I get it. Jesse Norman is like really, really clever. He’s got a doctorate in philosophy; he worked in the City; he’s written a book or two and he got into Eton and Oxford. So of course the PM should summon him to join the Downing Street sanctum sanctorum as a sort of policy wallah, fanning ideas in the general direction of the electorate.

Except … I’m not so sure Norman is quite as bright as they say. After all, his self-regarding suggestion that the reason there are so many Etonians in high office is because the school has a greater “commitment to public service” than other schools is a classic philosophical mistake (a syllogism, no less). There is a rather more plausible (though less pleasant) explanation of the chumocracy, namely that Etonians stick together. That he chose to make his first pronouncement in his new role in such a cack-handed way would suggest a mind more interested in explaining away privilege than in sharing it around.

Moreover, the praise some have heaped on Norman for his role in sinking the Government’s Lords Reform Bill is misplaced. Leaving aside the fact that his argument against an elected House sounded odd from an elected politician and that all three main parties, his included, are left with a major constitutional headache, Norman effectively torpedoed his party’s chance of winning the next election by antagonising the Liberal Democrats into voting down the boundary changes.

Yes, he launched himself as a star in the Tory firmament, but he completely lost sight of the longer-term objective. I’m sure he thinks that constitutional principle is far more important than merely winning elections, but a subtler campaign or a wiser head might have thought twice about losing the extra 20 or so seats the Tories hoped to gain out of the boundary changes. So maybe Eton boys are not so clever after all. And maybe all we have learnt is that David Cameron is so weak within his own party that he has had to buy the rebels’ loyalty with a seat beside the table.

The new generation has a voice

You’ll have heard the statistics before. A million under 25-year-olds out of work, a steadily increasing number of youngsters trapped for more than a year without a job, and if you look at the map of long-term youth unemployment, it matches the historic patterns of poverty, concentrated in the old mining, shipbuilding and steelwork towns.

We’ve tried to do our bit in the Rhondda Labour Party. We raised enough cash to pay a couple of apprentices the living wage, and Katie and Jack have been working for me for the past three months. But I fear a far greater intractable social malaise if this generation grows up without a prospect of employment. Thus far, the government has come up with nothing, so I’ve decided to ask young people what needs to change, which is why we had 10 youngsters from each of the main secondary schools drawing up a questionnaire for every 16-18 year-old in the constituency. It was a lively session. They all had clear views. And they want change. So perhaps the answer lies in their hands.

Never too old for the political bug

I know everyone thinks we politicians laze around on some beach the moment Parliament is not sitting, and I’m as critical as the next person of the constant recesses. But most of us have been dealing with constituency casework or campaigning in the local elections. Indeed, on Monday I was out on the knocker in Tamworth, a seat that we lost in 2010 and where in 2009 there was a collapse of the Labour vote.

As if to prove the point that politicians are not just in it for themselves, we were joined on the stump by the former MP Brian Jenkins, who had been out leafleting for the best part of a month and was standing, at the age of 70, for the council. I don’t suppose Brian will ever shake off the political bug, which just goes to show that his alma mater, Kingsbury High School in Staffordshire, has just as great a commitment to public service as Eton. (PS, Brian won.)

I know nothing – apparently

On Tuesday I was interviewed, at interminable length in the cold, by a Spanish TV station, which is making a documentary about political transparency. Their thesis was simple: Britain is a shining beacon of openness and democracy while Spain is a nest of corruption and obfuscation. Their evidence? Britain ensures robust questioning of the PM and other party leaders; all government contracts are openly published, and the Freedom of Information Act makes it impossible for British politics to get away with anything dodgy.

In Spain, by contrast, MPs condemn the publication of their expenses as a waste of time. Their pièce de résistance was an instance where the Conservative Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, was so mobbed by journalists on leaving a debate that he was forced to make an about-turn and avoided answering their questions. They reckoned no British politician would do that because it was so cowardly, but I couldn’t bring myself to condemn the poor man and I found myself saying that sometimes the arrogance of the press is even worse than the arrogance of politicians. This upset the whole premise of the interview as I could hear one of the cameramen say that “this dickhead has been a complete waste of time”, to which the producer replied, “but he’s the only one we could get”. They seemed to have forgotten that we had done the interview in Spanish.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

CRM Developer (MS Dynamics 2011/2013, JavaScript)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: CRM MS Dynamic...

IT Teacher

£22000 - £33000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: ICT TeacherLeedsRandstad ...

Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL) Su...

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Richard Attenborough, who died on 25 August, attends a film premiere  

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

DJ Taylor
Women were excluded from the decision-making progress in Rotherham  

Rotherham child sexual abuse scandal - the lessons: Asian women's voices go unheard

Joan Smith
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution