There are times when it seems to me that we might as well ditch the term ‘meritocracy’, and simply call the UK ‘Dynasty’. After all, it was quite an entertaining TV series; and if nothing else, using it will bring a small dimension of truth to the lava-flow of hypocrisy that is now our national life.
There I go again with all that relentless cynicism. But how about this for a corker on Sunday: MPs are calling for a new crackdown on alcohol abuse. A crackdown is always a good wheeze, because it usually manages to distract from another event called the f**kup. However, the idea of MPs pontificating on heavy drinking is akin to Diane Abbott wanting to abolish public schools, and then sending her children to hang on a minute, she’s an MP too and…well there you are, you see. It just goes to show.
The broadest seam of hypocrisy in Great Britain nevertheless remains that of the family name, where one or more children use the fame of a parent to advance their otherwise mediocre offering. The ‘level playing field’ has become one of Cameron’s more hedgehog-flattened clichés, all the more hysterical because of his equal fondness for the term “giving one’s children a leg up”. So it is that we find a Kinnock offspring in search of a safe seat, and Tony Blair’s lad seeking a parliamentary sinecure somewhere cosy. Before that we have had, over time, Hilary Benn (his Dad before that in the Lords thanks to being Wedgewood-Benn), Jeremy Hunt (family connection to Virginia Bottomley, result: safe seat of SW Surrey), Peter Mandelson (grandson of famous Foreign Secretary Herbert Morrison) heading all the way back to the Pitts of elder and younger fame.
One could argue, of course, that Winston Churchill was the product of the exact same nepotism, his father having been the glittering Victorian Fourth Party star Randolph Churchill. But it isn’t true: Winston became popular despite his father, who was widely loathed for splitting loyalties, distrusted by the press barons of the day, and a constantly gratuitous putter-down of his son who eventually fell into disgrace as syphilis worked its way up his spine and into his brain.
Such triumphs over background are rare, however…and politics is far from being the only game where that rule applies. Let’s segue into this one via Baroness Warsi, who today is all over the media telling us that the Tory Party is “not doing enough to woo ethnic minorities”. The casually accepted idea of ‘wooing minorities’ worries me, because it is merely privilege in another form – rather like wooing Murdoch, for example – or the TUC. Muslims, West Indians, Chinese, African Asians and Jews have been part of Britain for a long time: why do they deserve to be wooed? Isn’t democracy about majority rule? Aren’t we all just British in the end? Murdoch isn’t British, but all politicos woo him. Recep Erdogan is a Turkish lunatic, but Cameron wooed him. Gaddafi was a mad arsehole, but Tony Blair wooed him. Enough wooing already – what about the millions of Brits who have nothing to offer beyond a willingness to work, and a desire to be good citizens?
It is from this acrid source of favouritism that the murky waters of privilege all spring. In journalism, there are countless dynasties: Coren, Wintour, Dimbleby, Theroux and so forth. In show business, Grade, Ray, Tarbuck, and Redgrave. Paul McCartney begat Stella McCartney, Nigel Lawson begat Dominic and Nigella…and of course, of great infamy recently, Lady Butler-Sloss is the sibling of the later Attorney General Michael Havers, whose son Nigel became a famous actor.
The truly sad thing is that so many people who live and thrive in the bubble of privilege continue to display little or no awareness of how hopelessly atypical their Weltanschauung is. David Cameron is risibly unable to grasp it. Nigella Lawson’s bubble eventually burst; but while in it, she unforgettably said during one cooking programme, “I always use cider vinegar for this flavouring, but if you’ve run out, then Champagne vinegar will do just as well”.
Yes indeed: if you’ve run out of bread, there’s always cake.