What would Clement do?

A Labour blog that witters on about Clement Attlee. Hurrah for The Major!

On snobbery and Shadow Cabinets…

The dust has settled and Ed has chosen his Shadow Team from those duly elected by the parliamentary Labour Party. Leaving aside the scandal of appointing Phil Woolas to any post apart from Minister for Oblivion, the biggest fuss in the chattering classes has been the appointment of Alan Johnson as Shadow Chancellor.

Now this is for several reasons, not least because Yvette Cooper was widely predicted to be a shoo-in for the post, but most of the carping seems to be along the lines that he is either too old or unqualified for the job. I have to say, as someone who is to the left of Johnson, this is bollocks, or if I think about it for a minute, utter bollocks.

Alan Johnson, an intelligent working class man who gave up a chance for higher education in order to support his family, knows more of budgeting than the wealthy son of an aristocrat. Unless you really want someone who has a family background in (legal, I’m sure) tax avoidance.

With an ageing population, do we really wish to make youth and inexperience the main qualifications for high office? Bear in mind that the youthful JFK passed risible amounts of Civil Rights and Social legislation compared to the older LBJ, who inherited Vietnam from his younger boss.

Winston Churchill would never have made PM if youth had been a factor (come to think of it, the Coalitions’ confidence motion rules would have kept Chamberlain in power too), and while we are on the subject, what “qualifications’ are we talking about here? Would it be a Ba Hons from just any University? Or just Oxbridge and The Russell Group (if they are well behaved)?

In his last revision of “Who Runs This Place”  the late Anthony Sampson described a country where political power is largely shared by a small elite in the name of Democracy, where most MPs have more in common with each other than with their constituents, and increasingly, as described in that other classic “The Rise of the Meritocracy”, these elites are self-justiyfing, to exclusion of the vast majority outside them. Evidently, if we are all middle-class now, some are more middle-class than others.

It comes as no surprise that the three most despised and lampooned PMs of the twentieth century fall outside this self-defined group – Macmillan (too posh and patrician), Callaghan (too common, no degree, loved the Labour Movement), and John Major (no degree, too common, nasal tone, flat vowels). When even the Tabloids are staffed by ex-Oxbridge types, this snobbery has become invidious. Compared to Baldwin, Chamberlain, Eden, Heath and Wilson, the record of these three is hardly worse, and in some cases better.

For the record, Oxbridge have given us The Cambridge Five, most of our PMs for the last century including Chamberlain, Baldwin and Eden, outstanding talents such as Gyles Brandreth, Oswald Moseley, Prince Charles (lucky us!), Thatcher, Lawson, Boris Johnson, Gideon “George” Osborne, David Cameron, Blair, Mandelson et al.

Those with no University Degree include Nye Bevan, Ernest Bevin, Morrison,  Manny Shinwell, Thomas Paine, Thomas Hardy, George Orwell, Jane Austen, William Blake, Jennie Lee and many others. Oh, and one Alan Johnson MP, a Labour MP who really has done a proper job.

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3 thoughts on “On snobbery and Shadow Cabinets…

  1. Pingback: 2010 in review « What would Clement do?

  2. My understanding of the new rules is that they potentially shore up executive power against the will of Parliament. Nothing new there, as that is what Governments of all stripes have done since at least 1945.
    A further point would be the relative age of the MPs and ministers who participated between 1940 and 1945. As there had been few by-elections, many were much older than those currently in the House, and this was reflected in both Government and Opposition front benches after 1945.

  3. “Winston Churchill would never have made PM if youth had been a factor (come to think of it, the Coalitions’ confidence motion rules would have kept Chamberlain in power too”

    No they wouldn’t. The coalition’s proposed changes don’t affect confidence motions, they affect early dissolutions. Chamberlain would still have fallen, what he couldn’t have done was held an early general election in 1940*.

    Which is presumably a good thing. In fact, Labour Ministers were attacking Cameron during the General Election for proposing that changes of PM should be followed by a General Election precisely on the grounds that this would have meant a 1940 election.

    *Actually, this isn’t quite accurate either. An election in 1940 wouldn’t have been early, as that’s when it was due – it was postponed because of war. But the point still stands.

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