Here and there – Chums

Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are spoiled children who never learned restraint, have no idea how most people live, and could not care less.  They are above rules made for bunnies like you and me.  The only constant they know is ego.  Not surprisingly, each trashed the joint when deluded peoples gave them the power to do just that.  Our politics are unattractive – but I don’t think either Trump or Johnson could even surface here.  They would immediately be laughed off any stage, and our polity knows nothing like the subscription to class, caste or wealth that enabled these clowns to get where they did.

Each has just one iota of honesty.  Neither ever tried to hide just what an awful shit he is.  Au contraire, it is an essential part of his schtick.  Johnson inscribed the Eton Leave Book with ‘more notches on my phallocratic phallus.’  That says enough about both Eton and Boris – both intent on littering the world with real bastards.

The damage done to Britain by dreadful people from Eton and Oxford is set out in Chums by Simon Kuper.  Mr Kuper writes for the FT and endured his time with the snobbery and intellectual desert of an arts course at Oxford. 

The book depicts a caste, as bad as any in India.  What it does not explore is how Oxford got by for so long ‘teaching’ such useless tripe that the best the graduates could do was to look for a life in a closet of sympa journalists or that ultimate refuge of the unemployable – the Tory Party in the House of Commons.  About fifty years ago, Paul Johnson excoriated Oxbridge for letting the nation down in The Offshore Islanders, and Mr Kuper’s book sets a platform for another go.

Just what is it that makes people vote for people who at best have no interest in them and at worst loathe them?  It looks to me that those not so well off that voted for Trump or Johnson have been betrayed – utterly predictably.  Blair and Bush are reviled for their failings.  How do these other ratbags escape?

The power of caste is alarmingly displayed by Mr Kuper.  The model is Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited.  (Although on the TV, he was much more pretty – my girls knew him as the Scarlet Pimpernel.  ‘Sink me!’)  Evelyn Waugh remarked ‘Those that have charm don’t really need brains.’ 

And he looks to have been right – for England.  No bastard will ever accuse Trump of having charm, but he also found out what Boris did.  ‘It turned out that even at the highest level of politics, you could say things that were plainly false….and many voters would either believe it, or like the crowd at the Oxford Union, wouldn’t particularly mind the untruth so long as they liked you.’  In other words, there is one born every minute.

And these people are better at campaigning than governing.  That is because they know how to campaign and they enjoy it.  Neither is the case with government.  Nothing about them – nothing – qualifies them to govern.  (We in Australia have just dropped a third-rate politician with a similar problem.)

Mr Kuper rightly points out that these spoiled children have not been confronted with war or tragedy.  Macmillan, whom I respect, served his country and met real people.  So did Churchill and Attlee – and even Ted Heath. 

None of these new people came close – Trump avoided it as ruthlessly as he avoided paying tax.  The pretty boys have no idea of the cost of their failings – nor could they give a damn.   In my view, they have all let the people of England down.

Writing in 1972, Paul Johnson laid the blame for what he saw as the failure of the English education system on the Anglican Church ‘with its incorrigible belief in the classics.’  ‘The English have paid a terrible price for Eton and Harrow, for Oxford and Cambridge.’   The line of sight of the accuser may have changed, but to an outsider the case looks so much stronger now.  England has turned its back on the world because a small claque of incestuous fops wanted to be the big fish in a small pond – and all in jolly boating weather.

I have been fortunate to have attended and enjoyed many summer schools at both Cambridge and Oxford – and, for that matter, Harvard.  I am aware of how sensitive that sensible people are about that ugly charge of ‘elitism’.  Mr Kuper thinks they have a long way to go.  So do I.  It is not hopeless for Oxbridge – but Eton looks to me to be a lethal appendix that could benefit from serious surgery.

Mr Kuper does not like Mrs Thatcher.  Not many from Oxford do.  But his book is a fearful reminder of not just the opposition to her as a woman – but of the appalling snobbery that she faced and which doubtless affected her time as leader.  Her father was a grocer and an alderman at Grantham.  ‘Trade, old boy – and Nonconformist, to boot.’  It is little wonder that the lady turned on Oxford and everything that Mr Kuper writes that it has supported. 

And let’s face it – she did just wipe the bloody floor with those preening twerps.  It is balm for my soul to reflect on how Mrs Thatcher could have received that sublimely ineffectual dandy, Jacob Rees-Mogg.

It is natural that we look at the social and political reasons behind the rise and fall of these nasty people – and Johnson must surely fall together with Trump.  But we should not forget just how bad they are as people.  Gove, the wheedling outsider, has not just let down the people.  He actively betrayed his mate and leader.  He transcended Judas – who at least had the courtesy to discard the thirty pieces of silver and then go and hang himself.

Politics – Trump – Johnson – Brexit – Morrison – Tories – Conservatives.

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