A Stopped Clock

There’s an old saying: even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

And that’s exactly what I thought this afternoon as I glanced at the BBC’s coverage of card-carrying nutter and attention junkie Nadine Dorries, who last year had tried to add an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill that would have massively constrained abortion advice for women.  To be fair, Dorries is getting a bit of a reputation of opening her mouth before her brain had first gear engaged but today was a fairly impressive example of her going off on one in what some might call the grand style.

So the Downing Street PR charabanc (I was going to say well oiled PR machine, but…) creaked into action. But it was something else he said that piqued my interest: in response to Dorries’ complaints that both Cameron and Osborne were, “arrogant posh boys” with “no passion to want to understand the lives of others” the Prime Minister said that he was quite clear that he did not agree with her, saying that he “did not accept” her criticisms.  Now, you might expect this anyway. But if he were arrogant and out of touch, it’s also the exact response he would give.

Cameron plastered on his face of aching sincerity, which looks like he has just performed a particularly uncomfortable bowel movement and whose contents now sit in his pants, then spent a whole load of time whining about how tough it is being Prime Minister. The thing is, I don’t recall anyone ever forced him to do it.  In fact, he spent a great deal of time and effort between 2005 and 2010 specifically trying to get the job, putting the boot into the previous incumbents along the way.  In which case I think he should consider shutting his mouth and just getting on with it. To be less polite: boo-fucking-hoo, Dave.  Here’s the sound of the world’s smallest violin.  This is what you wanted; deal with it.

Let’s look a that “posh boy” insult again. Now, to be fair, one cannot choose the school one’s parents choose. By the time one reaches eighteen, however, a little more autonomy is possible to exercise. So, setting aside Eton and the accident of schooling for now, let’s look at the university careers of our Cabinet. There are 23 Cabinet Ministers, as well as another six who attend Cabinet meetings. Of those 29 people in the Coalition Cabinet, nineteen (19) have degrees from either Oxford or Cambridge. Of those, twelve (12) are Oxonians. Eight of those read Politics, Philosophy and Economics (or some combination of PPE). And not one of the Cabinet as a science degree, unless one stretches to Nick Clegg and his Cambridge degree in Anthropology and Archaeology (and that is a stretch, because it probably isn’t). Vince Cable did start to study Natural Sciences at Cambridge, but switched to Economics. Actually, the Shadow Cabinet is a little (though not much) better.  Of the 31 people with Shadow Cabinet roles or attendance, ten (10) are either from Oxford or Cambridge. Eight are from the former and seven of those read PPE, including the Millibot, Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper. Twenty one members of the shadow cabinet are form outside Oxbridge, but not one of these appears to have any kind of scientific background either. The most popular subjects for front-benchers of all hues appears to be either Politics (quelle surprise), or some variant of History, with a couple of lawyers and linguists thrown in.

There is more than a faint whiff of irony hearing the likes of David Willetts or Michael Gove extolling the virtues of the STEM subjects and the vital role they will play in our economic future when not a single person on either front bench has any real clue about any of it means. In fact, what it does show up is just one aspect of a grindingly depressing intellectual monoculture in our political system.  Quite apart from the class and wealth biases inherent in the current setup, we also have to contend with a world view inculcated by a one-dimensional intellectual bastion of privilege. No wonder there’s so much group-think and wagon-closing in the Westminster village.

All Dorries has pointed out is what most of us suspected anyway: Cameron, and most of his colleagues really are cut off from the reality of life for most of us: selected from an incestuous and limited intellectual pool, with little subsequent life experience and  fundamental lack of knowledge of  (and empathy with) the issues facing modern Britain. Indeed, it may go some way to explaining the comparative lack of either intellectual rigour and clarity or direction within the Coalition at present, or the inability of anyone to consider a Plan B.

She might be as mad as a box of frogs, but Nadine Dorries, like the proverbial stopped clock, is pretty much right on this one, whatever David Cameron might try to say to convince us otherwise.


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