The narrowing of our political class has an almost 18th-century feel to it

When Brown shuffles off the stage, British politics (or perhaps one should say English politics, since Scotland may be going its separate, but equally parochial way) will be in the hands of a generation of late thirty and early fortysomethings, almost all of whom went to the same university at roughly the same time and studied the same subject. As well as the two Milibands, Balls and Cooper, Jacqui Smith, Ruth Kelly, James Purnell, David Cameron and William Hague all went to Oxford and read PPE. The exceptions to this rule are George Osborne (Oxford, history), Boris Johnson (Oxford, classics), Michael Gove (Oxford, English) and a few, like Andy Burnham, Chris Grayling, Nick Herbert and Nick Clegg, who went to Cambridge. (Chris Huhne, incidentally, also read PPE at Oxford, but he is now in his fifties and therefore appears to be viewed by some Lib Dem members as already past it.) No doubt they were the leading political talents among their generation of students at their respective universities, but still, this seems like a pretty narrow pool of talent to be drawing from in the first place.

In Cameron’s case, the connections go even further back. He has opened the door to alumni from his old school: the Old Etonians in Cameron’s kitchen cabinet include the head of policy review, Oliver Letwin; his chief of staff, Edward Llewellyn; and his special adviser, Danny Kruger. At this point, I should make my own personal connections clear. I too went to Eton, at exactly the same time as David Cameron. It was a big school, and I don’t think I ever met Cameron – certainly I am not aware of ever having exchanged a single word with him. But I do remember him, simply because he was once described to me, at the time when we were doing our A-levels, as already being well connected politically and having serious ambitions to become prime minister one day. This was thought rare enough, even at such a big and grand school, to be worthy of comment. Now I have led a fairly sheltered life since, and no doubt should have got out more, but in the intervening twenty-odd years I have never had anyone else pointed out to me as wanting to be prime minister. So, in my narrow experience, the one person who was singled out at 18 as having the credentials to make it to the top of the greasy pole (and at 18, that can only mean having the appropriate mixture of ambition and contacts) is now on the verge of making it to the top of the greasy pole. Spooky, no?



2 Responses to “The narrowing of our political class has an almost 18th-century feel to it”

  1. 1 Top 10 books of the year « pixelisation Trackback on December 31, 2007 at 6:50 am
  2. 2 How Britain and America influence each other « pixelisation Trackback on January 24, 2008 at 1:03 pm

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