Monday, February 19, 2007

The Bullingdon and Bullshit


As was only to be expected, the revelation that David Cameron smoked pot at Eton has raised few eyebrows. To be honest the headline 'Public Schoolboy smoked dope' is up there with 'Pope: Catholic'. Next up, the toilet habits of bears: revealed!
More damaging, though still to my mind trivial in the extreme, has been the re-revelation that Cameron, along with Boris Johnson, was a member of the Bullingdon Club. There has been the inevitable attempt in the Guardian to paint this in the lurid tones of class warfare, complaining that, of the 8 members of the club none went into engineering, social work, teaching or local government [incidentally, sometimes I begin to wonder whether the Guardian is simply a wind-up. Who on earth looks at a picture like this, looks up the careers of the protagonists - law, banking, politics etc. - and is offended that none of them is a social worker? I'm baffled].
When I was up, the Bullingdon had a reputation of being filled with the sort of pretentious, arrogant Euro-trash that it was the duty of every patriotic Englishman to avoid. The same went (double) for the Piers Gaveston, the Assassins and most other wanky drinking clubs you could name. They were replete with not only the sort of person who, in his first week at Oxford, discovers his aristocratic past, but also, and often worse, the sort of person who really was aristocratic, but was still an arsehole.
So: the Bullingdon club was full of wankers 10 years ago, and it was probably full of wankers 20 years ago too. Is that it? Philip Larkin once said (probably) that he grew up hating everybody, and it was only when he grew up that he realised that he merely hated children. Students tend to the irritating. Whether this is manifested in spending ridiculous fortunes on tailcoats and cocaine, or in drafting tediously self-congratulatory motions deploring the foreign policy of George Bush (or Richard Nixon) is irrelevant. Half the people now decrying Cameron for spending some of his time at Oxford (and lets not forget both he and Boris Johnson did get firsts - a feat beyond goody-two-shoes Blair) poncing about in the Bullingdon were themselves poncing about in JCRs calling for the end of Thatcherism, or freedom for Nicaragua.
Ultimately, the prime reason for the newsability of this story is that people who dislike Cameron, either because he is a Tory, or because, really, he isn't, will find it a convenient short-hand for decrying his policies (or at least his stated position from which he will formulate them) without having to engage with the ideas at all. Cameron says he wants to help the poor in society? Huh, he used to wear a tailcoat. Hurrah for grown-up politics eh?

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