Philip Whiteley's Blog

July 26, 2010

Does elite-ness enhance leadership capability?

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 8:11 am

Here are a couple of my favourite snobbish quotes:

‘He’s from a family that has to buy its own furniture.’


‘A piano? How on earth did you get a piano into your tiny flat, darling? Or is it an upright?’

The first was said of Michael Heseltine, though I’m not sure who by. The second is absolutely genuine – said by an aunt of a friend of a friend.

I am not sure if it matters that our prime minister used to go to Eton public school and went straight from Oxford to political advisory work, to Parliament, etc. While waiting for the coalition deal to be finalised in May, I did wonder if David Cameron was something like 12th in line for the throne and was starting to explore other routes to high office …

He and Nick Clegg (Westminster School, former EU bureaucrat) do seem relaxed in post. David Davis’ ‘Brokeback’ comments probably reflect social and personal envy. There is a case to be made that people born to privilege can make better public servants, as they are less anxious to secure their reputation or wealth. The sight of grubby Labour ministers quite nakedly on the make does indicate that there’s something to be said for this idea. Though the expectation that supreme wealth and ‘position’ is some sort of entitlement for a political figure – either before or after a ministerial career – is the real cancer.

There appears to be at least one downside, however. Cameron and Clegg have never had anything but a privileged education or privileged job, and their apparently genuine commitment to decentralisation feels rather theoretical. They won’t ever have had a moment’s anxiety over feeding the family, or dreading returning to work on a Monday morning, or putting up with a bullying or harassing boss because there’s no financially viable alternative. Their ‘Big Society’ idea is faultless in concept. Their abolition of Labour’s performance targets for 3-5 year old children (note to non-UK readers: I’m not making this up) means that the coalition will have been worth putting together, even if it achieves nothing else. But the emphasis is on tinkering with the structure of public services, rather than investing in local leadership. If our gilded duo had actually suffered a horrid day job, or been to a school with a rough intake, they might have some understanding that it’s the great boss or the great headmaster that makes the difference, not some theoretical right to opt-out of local authority control.


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