Was anyone surprised. No. Although when I watched the result there was Hunt with a smile on his face that looked quite genuine, and then there was Boris in an ill-fitting suit looking his usual scruffy and rumpled self, but slightly solemn. For a moment I thought…..! But no. I’ll come back to both of these outward personas in a tick. Yes, out of the 159,320 Tory members who voted Boris got 92,153 which is a 66.4% win over Hunt who garnered 46,656 votes. And the 66% margin is key as anything under 60% was going to be considered a brake on Boris’ new government. The result means no brake, and that is how it seems, with Boris vigorously sacking half the current Cabinet and installing some pretty reprobate ne’er-do-wells in their place.
Depending on the newspapers you read the pundits are either ecstatic at finally having ‘the man’ or full of gloom at our impending demise as a nation.
Before I get on to what Boris might get up to in the coming months, I’d like to take a look at the man.
How did we end up with that Trump-lookalike clown as leader of the Conservative party and by default our nation’s Prime Minister? Well, it is Boris’ persona to be a bumbling and quite nice chap, and a lot of people are taken in by this. Although, wait a minute, he also quotes Latin and the Classics. And, I said chap. Yes, we’re getting nearer to the real Boris because to crack the how and the why of Boris you have to crack the British class system and its schooling of its elite.
Boris or, and let’s get to the reality of the man, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson commonly known amongst his friends as Al, and not Boris, is a very different person to Trump. Think about that for a moment – he chooses to be known to the wider world as Boris because it’s warm and bumbly but, really, call him Al. And the first thing you must understand about Boris Johnson is that, unlike Trump who is all about lack of confidence, our Trump-lookalike has huge deposits of boundless and effortless confidence. He may be shy (says our BBC pundit Laura Kunsberg) but this confidence manifests in a deep conviction that he is here to reign and rule over us.
And where does this effortless bonhomie and superiority come from? His class and, as a consequence of his class, his school.
The British class system is as hard to read and as convoluted and as rigid as any of the strata and sub-sections within, for example, the Indian caste system. There are codes that are barely visible. I wrote about this in a tongue-in-cheek way here, where I illustrated it with reference to carpets and furniture.
Do read it, but if you haven’t time here’s a small example: Michael Heseltine. He’s a giant in comparison to today’s politicians. And he’s wealthy, and he’s in the House of Lords. You’d think that was enough to make him part of the very top of our upper class, but no, Alan Clarke (not the best type, but he’s here for purpose of illustration) looked down on Heseltine because he bought his own furniture. See, it’s the subtle clue, that you’re not quite…. Also, another saying of Alan Clarke’s was, you’re not wealthy unless you live very well (with a castle and land, if you can) on the interest of your interest; another clue. The fact that Heseltine bought his pad (which is large) and owns several surrounding farms plus has dedicated himself to planting a huge arboretum within his land, means nothing. He still doesn’t hack it in comparison to Al who is related to both British and European royalty (to be fair, way back) and incidentally has a Turkish great-grandfather who was a journalist, poet and politician during the Ottoman Empire. That’s generations of privilege honing and sharpening up your DNA.
Our class system is hugely bolstered by the British way of educating and schooling its young. The majority of British children (93%) are educated in the state sector with only 7% being educated in private/independent schools, rising to 18% of pupils over the age of 16. While there are 2,500 schools within the independent sector there are 7 schools that are of particular interest: Charterhouse, Eton College, Winchester College, Harrow School, Rugby School, Shrewsbury School and Westminster College. Ironically named public schools, these establishments are key to understanding how their alumni move effortlessly into the City, the army, the judiciary and boardrooms and especially, government. Indeed, Eton is the school where so many of our current politicians have been educated including Boris Johnson, and let’s not forget David Cameron, Rees-Mogg, Zac Goldsmith, Oliver Letwin (actually a good guy) Rory Stewart (interesting but don’t forget his sense of privilege), need I go on? So, why Eton and what does it do for a child?
I haven’t looked at any evidence for exam results but it is one of the many conventions and codes in British life that Eton is the number one school to send a child to if you want them to get ahead in life, if that is, you can afford the fees, which are per term £14,167 or £42,501 a year, plus extras, of course. There are pupils there who have bursaries and/or are ‘clever’ and have reduced fees (they’re King’s Scholars) but they’re slightly separate from those who come from land and wealth because the type of person who sends their child to Eton would be monied, albeit not necessarily the kind of money earned from a salary but ‘old money’ earned from land (and I don’t mean a large garden) and perhaps, more often these days, from finance. There will be surnames you recognise: Wellesley, Vestey, Sainsbury’s; some will be double barrelled; Money-Coutts (that’s a real name) and Fearnley-Whittingstall (where do you think Hugh’s got his confidence to tackle the issues he does) and many pupils will have had fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers at Eton. In this country, those that inherit wealth also inherit their school. Yes, they have to pass an entrance exam, but key to understanding this type, this class is, you don’t show, ever, that you are clever as, you know, it’s not necessary, it’s who you know that matters.
It will be a privileged existence at that school, and they will learn much. But above all they learn their place in society and how to comport themselves with an effortless superiority that is to be their ethos in life, an ethos that is not, as one headmaster implied to be misused, but neither is it something that will be lacking after they leave Eton. Which does seem to me, that what some of these pupils do possess is the ability to glide through life on charm and bonhomie and a booming voice as well as a bit of Latin – ta rah – I give you Boris. And without the Latin, I give you David Cameron, who casually gave us the Referendum, casually fought to remain, casually lost and casually, with great grace, resigned to write his memoir in his shed for which he is being paid shed-loads of money.
And here’s another point to ponder – these schools are primarily boarding schools. Apparently, David Cameron became a boarder at the age of seven. Think about children you know at that age. How do they cope with being away from their family, and especially their mother? You’d have to cut off your feelings somehow and build up a persona, a mask to present to the outside world for the rest of your time at school (which would be at these schools to 18). And thereafter, would they drop that mask? They have to be damaged by this experience. I come back to Jeremy Hunt and that smile of his, which was so perfect. And do you wonder sometimes that these elite male types are often such boys? They haven’t grown up.
Ye gods we have a plump man-child in charge of our nation with, don’t forget, oodles of confidence!
I have much to say about our latest Prime Minister and his new Cabinet, and his stance towards various issues but that will come in future posts. You might remember I used to say, nothing’s happening, that’s not the case now!
Penny Kocher, 26th July 2019
Nick Duffell, Why boarding schools produce bad leaders. The Guardian, 9June 2014
James Wood, Diary. The London Review of Books Volume 41 Number 13 4 July 2019