Four more years of Boris the Oxbridge underdog

Boris Johnson heads Tories' London Mayor shortlistThe most interesting thing about the London election result of May 3rd?

Not the huge difference between the vote for Labour Assembly members (who increased their numbers from eight to twelve) and the unsuccessful candidacy of Ken Livingstone in my view (though Labour clearly does have big lessons to learn from that: in Blackheath Westcombe ward, as in many other parts of London, Labour won the Assembly vote narrowly, but Boris out-polled Ken by 500 votes).

The real revelation came in the spin the Conservatives put on Boris’ re-election. They were careful not to put the boot into Ken (who Boris has magnanimously invited to the Olympic opening ceremony), and Boris himself was careful not to crow too much about how his success contrasted so markedly with the Conservatives’ failure in the local elections everywhere else in England, Wales and Scotland.

But right at the end of an otherwise uninspiring election result, there was a fascinating clue to the mentality of the elite who now run the Tory party. It said a lot about how detached from reality some of our political masters have become. In a story on the Mayoral election result in the Guardian on Saturday, May 5th, an unintentionally hilarious soundbite gave the game away.

An anonymous Downing Street source was quoted as saying “Boris has shown you can be an old Etonian who went to Balliol and that need not prevent you succeeding”. (See http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/may/05/boris-johnson-winning-tory-formula?newsfeed=true for the full story).

I laughed out loud at that, and have been thinking about it on and off for the three weeks since the story appeared. I certainly did not go to Eton, but I did study at Balliol College, Oxford (several years after Boris, although I did overlap with his younger brother Jo Johnson, now Tory MP for Orpington).

Some of those who were at Balliol with me in the mid-1990s are now emerging as top academics (Dominic Sandbrook, Ted Vallance), MPs (not just the younger Johnson, but also Rory Stewart), novelists (Chris Cleave) and in other fields (my contemporary Ben Rowland is chair of Toynbee Hall). Some of the less bright ones, such as me, may not be pursuing such stellar careers, but we are privileged to have gone to a great university and for the opportunities it has given us. If you suggested to any of them that they have overcome an anti-Oxbridge bias to do well, they would look very puzzled indeed.

People who did not enjoy a university education, and have worked all their lives for little monetary reward, would be even more puzzled. To claim that an Oxbridge education is a handicap to overcome is absurd. It is also insulting to those who have really striven to get to any university from a humble background, or to anyone who has succeeded in life without going to University at all.

Even if there is a bit of anti-Oxbridge bias in some quarters, then so what – it is only a useful corrective to centuries of privilege enjoyed by those, like Boris, who went to top public schools and Oxbridge colleges like Balliol.

I can’t imagine thatBoris – a superb tactician – would have said anything so idiotic, but clearly this is what some Conservative spin-doctors are thinking. As a piece of spin, the argument that Boris is some kind of Oxbridge underdog wins first prize for ingenuity.

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One Response to Four more years of Boris the Oxbridge underdog

  1. Pingback: The demise of Boris Johnson – the Quintin Hogg of our times – shows that the age of Balliol superiority is now over | Alex Grant

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