As long as the “arrogant posh boys” rule the roost, the Tories will struggle to win over the country

September 21, 2012 1:49 pm

It’s hard to see how the Andrew Mitchell story could be much worse for the Tories. Being accused of calling police officer a “fucking pleb” and telling them to “learn your fucking place” seems like a message laser targetted to prove that some at the top of the Tory Party think they are born to rule, that they are better than others and that the “plebs” need to get out of their way and do what they’re told.

The imagery could barely have been worse if Mitchell had trampled over a nurse, on a horse, in full hunting regalia, screaming “Fuck off serf” through a bullhorn.

Similarly, it’s a further blow to already damaged police morale to hear a senior member of a government that is cutting their numbers tell them to learn their fucking place…

It all just serves to reinforce what much of the public already feel in their bones about the modern Tory Party – it’s run by “arrogant posh boys” who not only don’t understand the lives of most people, worse than that, actively look down on most people. It reinforces probably the strongest negative impression of the Tory Party that exists, and it exists because there is a more than sizeable grain of truth to it.

Back in the 1980s when the Tories actually won elections – no support from Lib Dems required – this would never have happened. Support for and from the police was a touchstone of Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government, as anyone who has spent any time in any mining village will tell you. Jack Straw noted undertones of this Thatcher/police relationship in the aftermath of recent Hillsborough revelations. Yet now it seems that some Tories regard even the police as just more “plebs”.

Plebs.

What a word that is. How evocative. It sticks in the nostrils like the smell of urinal cakes or a fart on a hot bus. It batters you to submission with how out of date the word is, nevermind the sentiment. But it also says something about how our political class is divorced from working class, and even middle class, aspirations.

The lack of people from working class backgrounds in politics is at epidemic proportions – and the Labour Party is certainly not immune from justifiable criticism on that score. But the Tory Party takes this to a completely different level. For a party that needs – and in some areas relies on – working class votes, the lack of identifiable senior figures from “ordinary backgrounds” in the Tory Party is stark. Eric Pickles is often cited as representative of working class Tories in the cabinet, but his cartoon-like behaviour makes it hard to see him as a representative of anything or anyone but Eric Pickles. Sometimes Phillip Hammond is cited as working class Tory, but with a personal wealth of between £7.5-9 million, he’s not that representative either. Perhaps the only working class Tories allowed to rise to the cabinet table are those who have managed to acquire the kind of wealth that could buy a castle.

By way of contrast, there were 8 Tory Ministers (until the recent reshuffle) who were Old Etonians. Now I’m not suggesting that being an Old Etonian should disqualify you in any way from being a minister. But what I am saying is that I find it hard to believe that 8 of the most able people in the Tory Party all went to the same school. And if they did, that’s an even bigger problem for them still…

Mitchell’s gate-rage is toxic for the Tories, because it feeds into a narrative that voters already believe. When this morning people said “I can’t believe he said that”, they mean “I can’t believe he would say that out loud”, rather than “I can’t believe he would say that”. That certain Tories would say such a thing seems immensely believable. Plausible. likely even.

And the lack of recognisably “ordinary” people around the cabinet table reinforces the notion that “plebs” is actually how many of those who run our country actually feel about those of us it governs. And until that perception shifts – perhaps with more recognisable working class Tories (David Davis?) at the top table, the Tories are going to struggle to win over the country.

Labour has similar problems with the perception that our leaders are an out of touch political clique – but that, is for another post…

  • ColinAdkins

    I understand the source of their arrogance.

    On leaving University it is rumoured Cameron’s future mother-in-law spoke to a director of Carlton TV to get him a start as a PR on a rumoured 80k per year? What was the average starting salary for a graduate at that time? What experience did he have as a PR (a non-job in my view) at that time?

    Then choosing a career in politics a member of the Royal household puts in a word before he gets a job at Conservative Party HQ.

    Take Johnson. Apparently on leaving University he went to a seminar on becoming soemthing in the finance sector. Getting bored with the presentations he revels in  the fact he upped and left and ‘walked into’ a job on the Telegraph.

    Old boys networks, the college scarf and the such like mitigate against a meritocratic society and create the culture of entitlement.

    Unfortunately this is also reflected in senior positions in the public sector or in professions such as law and politics or in bodies such as the BBC. The weakness of our case is that Labour practised such preferment when in power: the Milibands, Purnell, Richards (Ofcom), Burnham, Balls, Cooper etc etc.

    • AlanGiles

       The other day a LL writer complained about the Greens being “hypocrites” – as if they were the only political party who were. Now “arrogant posh boys”…. As Colin points out in his final paragraph, Labour are not immune from this fault – I would hardly say David Miliband, Derry Irvine, James Purnell and Ed Balls were modest and meek shrinking violets.

      I honestly feel, for their own good, Labour needs to get over this “isn’t everyone else terrible but we are all so lovely and cuddly” phase. All parties have their not-so-good representatives.

      • DaveCitizen

         Alan, this is an important piece by Mark. It’s all too easy to wash over the class/privilege/inequity thing in Britain, especially given that many of those with their hands on the access passes have to some degree enjoyed privileges themselves. But it is not something one can “get over” as you suggest – it is a real problem that holds us all back.

        I’ll be interested to see if this get’s through the access gates – some citizens are more equal than others, even on LL!

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001102865655 John Ruddy

         well, at least David Miliband (and Ed) both went to a state comprehensive school. The fact that they they went onto Oxford surely should not preclude them?

        • AlanGiles

          John My point was simply that it is otiose to accuse other parties of things that happen in your own one: Mark Ferguson does Labour no favours.

          It doesn’t matter what sort of school David Miliband went to – or Purnell (who I believe was privately educated in France for a time) – they are both extremely arrogant, and were, and would be, even more so in government. 

        • AlanGiles

          John My point was simply that it is otiose to accuse other parties of things that happen in your own one: Mark Ferguson does Labour no favours.

          It doesn’t matter what sort of school David Miliband went to – or Purnell (who I believe was privately educated in France for a time) – they are both extremely arrogant, and were, and would be, even more so in government. 

        • AlanGiles

          John My point was simply that it is otiose to accuse other parties of things that happen in your own one: Mark Ferguson does Labour no favours.

          It doesn’t matter what sort of school David Miliband went to – or Purnell (who I believe was privately educated in France for a time) – they are both extremely arrogant, and were, and would be, even more so in government. 

        • ColinAdkins

          John with 25% of MPs going to Oxbridge I fear it is more the “lodge” precluding others.

    • AnotherOldBoy

      If there is a rumour that Mr Cameron’s future mother-in-law got him a job at Carlton at £80,000 a year when he left Oxford, it is utter nonsense.  Mr Cameron spent the first 6 years of his life after graduating working for the Conservative Research Department and then as special advisor to the Chancellor and Home Secretary.

      Both Mr Cameron and Mr Johnson graduated from one of the best universities in the world with first class degrees.  They also have obvious personal skills plus drive and ambition.  Of course they have done well.  That is meritocracy in action!

    • Plebs_britanicus

       In the first half of the  20th century, we were proud to read the National Council for Labour Colleges (NCLC) is magazine “The Plebs”. Maybe we should return to use this title in our fight to remove this posh boys’ government. Gerald Wilkinson. 

  • http://twitter.com/christof_ff christof_ff

    Labour are some way off the matching the Tories in the out-of-touch stakes, but it is ironic this appears next to a piece about London-born & raised Oxbridge PPE graduate Will Straw possibly being parachuted into Rossendale & Darwen as PPC.

  • kb32904

    “like the smell of urinal cakes”

    Urinal cakes ?? WTF do you boys get up to in the toilets ??

    “As l long as the “arrogant posh boys” rule the roost, the Tories will struggle to win over the country”

    Good, let them carry on self-destructing. I couldn’t care less how they struggle – I don’t WANT them to win over the country & I’m surprised that anyone posting on a Labour site would want them to !

  • OnThePulse

    Good article – I agree with just about everything – except I don’t think it’s that they see the “working class” as ‘plebs’, and that’s the issue. It goes further than that. It’s that they see everyone but themselves as ‘plebs’ – i.e. anyone who hasn’t been to public school. So plebeian in the Roman sense – i.e. everyone who is not an ‘aristocrat’.

  • https://mikestallard.virtualgallery.com/ Mike Stallard

    Arrogant cad! I mean, really, what a totally unacceptable thing to do! He needs help. It would never happen in Waitrose.

  • AlanGiles

    I certainly agree with Mark about the arrogance of politicians in the Coalition, but just to prove my point that Labour is not free of afrrogance, how about this rejoinder, posted after I had posted a simple statement of fact on LL:

    ” I have repeatedly told you to refrain from replying to my comments.. ….
    Perhaps you should actually read comments instead of being guided by
    your bitterness and get some sleep. If you continue to annoy me like
    this I will contact the Editor.”

    Now – is that arrogance or is that arrogance?.

    Let’s stop pretending that Labour consists of nothing but mild-mannered people who would’nt say boo to a goose. Politics is a nasty business sometimes, and it is ridiculous to pretend only Conservatives can be arrogant.

  • Serbitar

    If arrogance is ugly and unbecoming but ignorance and incompetence can be disastrous. 

    Lord David Freud who has been involved with welfare “reform” ever since Tony Blair hired him to “review” Britain’s social security system in 2006 , apparently doesn’t know the current rates of one of its main benefits the Jobseeker’s Allowance. While being interviewed by the Work and Pensions Select Committee recently Freud fumbled and stumbled and struggled and fluffed:

    “… the JSA amount is £64, or whatever the precise figures is.”In point of fact JobSeeker’s Allowance is £71.00 per week for those over 25 and £56.25 per week for younger people. 

    Freud is by definition arrogant, by considering himself clever and competent enough to turn the nation’s complex and interconnected welfare system upside down and inside out without causing atrocious harm to the vulnerable, but his glaring ignorance and incompetence in respect to a benefit system he has been intimately involved overhauling for some six years or so, as demonstrated above, well… that is just plain terrifying.

    Iain Duncan Smith and David Freud really do seem to be making it up as they go along.

  • Brumanuensis

    Well, erm, maybe: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/feb/20/david-cameron-the-pr-years

    When children from deprived council estates start enjoying identical career paths, I’ll believe that ‘meritocracy’ is real. Until then, not so much.

    Of course, to say nothing of how he got his job at CCO:

    “When the young Cameron was due to attend a job interview at Conservative Central Office, a phone call was received from Buckingham Palace. “I understand you are to see David Cameron,” said the caller. “I am ringing to tell you that you are about to meet a truly remarkable young man.”

    It has been speculated that the mystery call was from Captain Sir Alastair Aird, Equerry to the Queen Mother and husband of Cameron’s godmother. The Airds vigorously denied it.

    Others have suggested the caller might have been Sir Brian McGrath, a family friend who was private secretary to Prince Philip. But he, too, though named as a referee for the job, denies it firmly.

    No matter – the tale provides an illuminating insight into the family’s enviable social standing, and how the ambitious Cameron was helped by well-placed friends and family”.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-462313/Dave-Cameron-says-hes-touch-reality–wealth-blue-blood-wonder.html#ixzz1E7nQNeTV

    • Alexwilliamz

      Nah I reckon it was Mike Yarwood, he was a great friend of the family back then. 

  • Brumanuensis

    I’m slightly bewildered that of all the people to pick a fight with, Mitchell chose a police officer. The police don’t forget slights and if Cameron doesn’t make an example of Mitchell, I suspect that it won’t be forgotten soon, which is particularly foolish given that the police and the Conservative Party and generally on the same wave-length.

    • brianbarder

       Mitchell obviously didn’t “choose” a police officer to “pick a fight with”:  the police officer refused to let Mitchell cycle through the gates as he had always been able to do before, and Mitchell lost his temper and swore at him, for which he almost immediately apologised; and the officer sworn at accepted the apology and said there was no need to take matters further.  The policeman believes that Mitchell called him a pleb and Mitchell has not denied it: he simply denies having said everything that the police told the Sun he had said. End of (boring) story.

      • Brumanuensis

        Brian, I think you’ve misunderstood what I was getting at. I didn’t mean to imply that Mitchell had literally picked a fight, but that of all the people to get involved in a dispute with, or lose one’s temper with, the police seems a particularly inappropriate target for a Conservative politician.

      • Brumanuensis

        Brian, I think you’ve misunderstood what I was getting at. I didn’t mean to imply that Mitchell had literally picked a fight, but that of all the people to get involved in a dispute with, or lose one’s temper with, the police seems a particularly inappropriate target for a Conservative politician.

      • Brumanuensis

        Brian, I think you’ve misunderstood what I was getting at. I didn’t mean to imply that Mitchell had literally picked a fight, but that of all the people to get involved in a dispute with, or lose one’s temper with, the police seems a particularly inappropriate target for a Conservative politician.

        • brianbarder

          @Brumanuensis, that’s fair enough, and I’m sorry (yes, me too!) if I misunderstood you.  Mitchell must be cursing his bad luck that it happened to be a pair of police officers, one of them apparently a woman, who caused him to lose his temper and swear at them:  predictably, the police have sought to take a terrible revenge, using every weapon in their formidable armoury — the suggestion of immunity from argument because of being in mourning (two policewomen murdered in the very same week, as if that had anything to do with it); the supposed unfairness of the government’s cuts in police numbers and pensions; the ludicrous assertions that Mitchell was both lying and accusing the police of lying, just because their respective recollections of what had been said didn’t match; the incontinent leaking of the police side of the dispute to the gutter press (and the Telegraph), in the malign effort to keep the issue on the boil; the absurd demands for a formal inquiry (when there’s manifestly nothing to inquire into);  the shameless attempt by the Police Federation to exploit the incident in pursuit of its own agenda.  He’s paid quite a price.  And they still won’t let him cycle through the main gates as they used to do!

  • AlanGiles

     Hi Dave. Sorry I have only just seen this: when I said “get over” perhaps I expressed myself badly. What I meant was it is difficult for Mark to suggest that arrogance is only to be found amongst the Tories. Labour have some extremely arrogant politicians – they appear less so at the moment because they are in opposition, but we can’t pretend that the arrogant would not be even more so if (when)  they were in power again.

    I don’t think we will ever see the end of politicians thinking they are special and important – it’s part of their make-up, but my problem with this piece is that it suggests all the unpleasant qualities are on one side only. Would that it were.

  • ColinAdkins

    I think you need to check Cameron’s cv. He worked as a PR for Carlton. Oxford is undoubtedly a great university but graduating from there doesn’t make you more (or for that matter less) suited for ‘great things’ than thousands of others who graduated from perfectly acceptable universities. I am not suggesting there is a conspiracy here but a more a hidden hand which opens doors for those from Oxbridge. Or put another way I think there is an assumption that because you went to Oxbridge you must be bright, talented etc. If you go to other universities you have to prove this is the case. I would gladly compare my cv – 5 years work, university, working for the Party, working for a campaigning organisation, working in the research department of a major trade union on issues such as industrial policy – with someone who has good a degree in classics from Oxford.  

    • AnotherOldBoy

      I think you need to check what you said in your original post and what I said in reply.  You said:

      “On leaving University it is rumoured Cameron’s future mother-in-law spoke to a director of Carlton TV to get him a start as a PR on a rumoured 80k per year? What was the average starting salary for a graduate at that time? What experience did he have as a PR (a non-job in my view) at that time?”

      As I pointed out, Mr Cameron did not start off in PR after leaving Oxford.  He got his job at Carlton 6 years AFTER he graduated so your point about the average starting salary was a bad one.

  • ColinAdkins

    Having checked Wiki you are correct in the sequence. However two jobs in which despite getting a first at one of the world’s best univerisites someone still has to put a word in for him. Six years after leaving university (1985) I was on a flat salary of 13k (all staff got the same regardless of what they did) working for the Anti-Apartheid Movement. If only I had gone to Oxford or married the daughter of some posh person with contacts. The substance of my point still stands if not the exact detail.

    • AnotherOldBoy

      Poor old you!  But I don’t think you can compare working for a noble cause like the Anti-Apartheid Movement with working for a publicly quoted company.  If it was money you were after, your mistake was in working for the Anti-Apartheid Movement.

      And, apart from comparing apples and pears in terms of the type of job, you are comparing 1985 salaries with 1994 salaries.

  • uglyfatbloke

    ColinAdkins…you are so right. what’s the difference between privileged, wealthy Cameron and privileged wealthy Miliband?
    it’s not as if Ed is going to be any less authoritarian or any less protective of the rich and powerful than Cameron. Neither of them like the people, they just want to tell us what to do.

  • brianbarder

    Sorry, but I don’t agree.  This was an intrinsically trivial incident, which told us absolutely nothing that we didn’t already know about the attitudes of Tory toffs to those whom they regard as the lower orders.  We don’t even know whether Mitchell used the word ‘pleb':  indeed the whole script given (or sold?) to the Sun newspaper (presumably by the police or someone acting for them) reads very strangely, looking much more like a police approximation in imagined toff-ese than what a toff is actually likely to have said.  Clearly he swore, doesn’t deny it, and has apologised for it; and anyway ‘pleb’ is hardly the most insulting word in the language, especially as it so obviously says more about the speaker than the person spoken to.

    The whole episode has been absurdly inflated by a number of those with an axe to grind:  the police, as a weapon in their war with the government over their pensions and police numbers, on which it’s by no means obvious that the government is in the wrong;  by the Sun, with an evident interest in keeping the story running for purposes of circulation, advertising revenue and kicking the toff class in the sensitive areas; and, I’m sorry to say, by the Labour party as an opportunistic and ungenerous stick to beat the Tories with.  Perhaps it’s too much to expect Yvette Cooper to have taken a more understanding and perhaps humorous line on the whole thing, which would have done her some credit; but to demand some kind of public inquiry, as the party is now doing, seems to me absurd verging on despicable.

    It’s worth remembering that Mitchell was a good, progressive and courageous International Development Secretary, who defended the policy of increasing overseas aid up to the UN target against howls of protest from his own more primitive colleagues and at a time when everything else was being savagely cut.  Moreover, it’s rather agreeable to reflect that any character defects revealed by the Gategate incident seem certain to make him an extremely disagreeable and alarming chief whip in his dealings with Tory MPs:  so much the better.

    Full disclosure:  for a year or two Andrew Mitchell and I were members of a small non-political committee which helped to promote debating and public speaking skills in schools and universities, etc., although he wasn’t very often there at its meetings.  I found him tough, very sharp, very practical, probably ruthless, always perfectly courteous.  He wouldn’t have been my first choice as a companion on a camping holiday, but then I’m sure that I wouldn’t have been his, either. It was obvious that we were at opposite ends of the political spectrum, and not temperamentally close.  I don’t instinctively urge that high-powered Tories should be given the benefit of the doubt when they commit the kind of crass blunders that real humans tend to do, but Mitchell’s bad-tempered outburst was not a hanging offence by any conceivable standard, and I think he should now be left alone and allowed to get on with his vital job of terrorising his fellow-Tory MPs.

    I don’t expect this comment to go down well in LL, but I’ve said what I think and I don’t plan to reply to hostile or other comments on this occasion, having rather a lot of things to do in the next few days in Real Life, as we call it.

    PS: I’m reliably informed that Andrew Mitchell is not a member of the Cabinet. Apparently not many people know that — just as not many people seem to know that Clegg didn’t apologise for breaking his pledge on student fees (he apologised for the pledge).

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