Monday, February 19, 2007

Young Conservatives, same old Tories

I don’t really care about David Cameron’s drug use and I don’t care about his rich upbringing. There’s more afoot here than poking fun at toffs and moral outrage at youthful snorting. Chris Dillow asks:

“How much do people change between the ages of 20 and 40? This question is the key to whether David Cameron is fit to hold any political office…
“At Oxford, he was a member of the Bullingdon Club, which is pretty much the embodiment of the very worst of the public school character: an arrogant contempt towards the ‘lower orders’ (porters, waiters, scouts); a yobbish criminality; and a wallowing in utterly undeserved and unmerited privilege. It's viciousness tempered by cretinism…”

Now, a critic might wail that this is just character assassination. But given that Cameron has made his own sheer earnestness the defining feature of his party’s image, as well as licensing and perpetrating attacks on Gordon Brown’s character, I reckon it’s fair game.

But I think there’s more here than a question mark over how nice a guy he really is. I think this episode betrays his lack of judgement and unreconstructed Tory outlook.

We now know that he hung around with these plutocratic thugs just one year before he went to work for the Conservative Party:

“The club's notorious dinners typically involve members booking a private dining room (under an assumed name) and drinking themselves silly before destroying it elaborately. They wear royal blue tailcoats with ivory lapels, and - having made merry - pride themselves in politely paying the restaurant's owners compensation in high-denomination banknotes. …
“Yet the ‘high jinks’ that took place on the night the photo was taken (at Canterbury Quad, Christchurch) are up there with the best of them. At some point after the dinner, the group walked through Oxford when one… threw a plant pot through the window of a restaurant.
“The burglar alarm was activated and police descended with sniffer dogs. Six of the group were collared and spent the night at Cowley police station before being released without charge.”

And despite seeing for himself what these people are really like (even if he himself was never like that), he holds to this day a conviction that with great wealth comes great virtue. He talks about the captains of industry as good, decent, public-spirited chaps who’ll happily put social wellbeing before profit if he can just sit them down and have a reasonable chat – with no need for nasty leftist red tape to frustrate their benevolence.


“I believe that there is a role for politicians in using exhortation, rather than regulation, to talk up good practice and draw attention to bad practice. … Advocacy is not a wishy-washy cop-out as some would argue. It strikes the right balance and avoids the pitfalls of over-prescriptive government intervention. … We believe in trusting people and in sharing responsibility.”


“We want companies to create their own solutions to social and environmental challenges… So in a Conservative Britain, corporate responsibility will provide the best long-term answer to economic insecurity, well-being in the workplace, and environmental care.”

And his very own ‘Built to Last’, the statement of party aims and values, declares that the way to a better world is by implementing the Bullingdon philosophy that People Like Us can play by a different set of rules:

“Encouraging greater corporate responsibility by offering a lighter regulatory regime to companies who make a commitment to responsible business practice.”

If the men at the top of business can look him in the eye and promise that they’ll play fair, then that’s good enough for him. And if they don’t keep their promises, then by Jove, he’ll jolly well ask them nicely if they’ve got any better ideas.

[Update: I’ve just read Roy Hattersley on the Bullingdon bully-boys and laughed out loud: “No wonder Cameron urged his followers to ‘hug a hoodie’. He clearly identifies with young men who wear distinctive clothes as the badge of their incipient violence.” But the difference is that the Oxford asbohemians “were bought out of trouble by their rich families. They flaunted the idea that people with money can get away with anything.”]

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