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


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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General


£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BI CONSULTA...

Infrastructure Manager - Southampton - Up to £45K

£35000 - £45000 per annum + 36 days holiday and more: Deerfoot IT Resources Li...

PHP Software Developer - Hertfordshire

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PHP Software Developer - Hertfordshire An es...

Electrical Engineer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Long term contract role - Electrical Pro...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Spy chief speaks on the record: "Thank you, and that's it, really"

John Rentoul

The daily catch-up: fathers looking after children, World Cup questions and Nostradamus

John Rentoul
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice