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

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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Thousands of Russian troops marched on Red Square in the annual Victory Day parade in a proud display of the nation's military might amid escalating tensions over Ukraine  

Once again, the West fails to understand Russia

Mary Dejevsky
Jamie Oliver joins children as they celebrate Food Revolution Day 2014 by cooking bread, making smoothies and creating salads at St Paul's Whitechapel CE Primary School in London  

Teaching children to cook at school is a recipe for self-respect

Grace Dent
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living