Thursday, February 14, 2008

The infantilism of the British Snob

Last night I had the privilege to attend a dinner in central London hosting the President of Lithuania, Valdas Adamkus. It was a hugely well attended event, with a variety of different attendees. The bulk of the guests were members of the UK's large Lithuanian diaspora. Some were those forced to leave Lithuania by the Soviet occupation. Some were more recent arrivals. Others were those, like myself, who have very long standing connections with Lithuania and the fight for freedom and independence. I was proud to have the honour to be presented to the President in a short meeting that proceded the reception and the dinner.

The centrepiece of the evening was the presentation of a national decoration to Baroness Thatcher. As a supporter of her foreign policy- though precious little of her domestic agenda- I was happy enough to applaud the frail elderly lady that she has become. Her health is clearly poor and yet she was able to address a short speech to the audience of several hundred. As I listened I recalled with some anger the fact that her removal from office allowed the utter disgrace of Douglas Hurd's comtemptible behaviour in the Yugoslav wars- the Iron Lady would never have tolerated such double dealing.

Naturally amongst the audience were several British Conservatives. Amidst a certain amount of joshing, we concluded the dinner in the bar where several politically minded individuals enjoyed a spirited debate.

One of my British friends attending the dinner has learned to speak the Lithuanian language with great proficiency and he and I entered into a conversation with a senior British Conservative. Despite the wide ranging discussion, the thing that surprised me was just how impressed this middle aged man was with the fact that my friend was an Old Etonian.

To be honest, although I have occasionally teased him about his patrician family, I would find it bizarre to label my friend entirely through his school- yet this was what this Conservative was doing. To me the qualities that are interesting about my friend are his experience and his- rather non-conformist- attitudes, yet the Conservative could not stop coming back to the issue of the school.

How utterly strange that a man of significant achievements, and a member of our Parliament should give such deference to a school! Even, of course, if it is the same school as his boss, it still strikes me as very strange that someone should find this to be the most critical factor in a person.

I realised that snobbery lies in a kind of infantilism. Personally my heroes are those who overcome trials and adversity and who yet manage to contribute, whether in ideas and intellect or sport or leadership or in some other form of endevour. The idea that one should defer to someone merely because they went to one high school and not another; because of some spurious intrinsic values, rather than because of their wider attainments in life just seems plain wrong.

So, after a while, I began to feel increasingly irritated with the barrage of snobbery. I have never felt particularly strongly about private education in the UK. I went through the state system, my siblings largely through the private system. Personally the quality seems variable and the private sector a lot more mixed than one might believe. However when an influential individual shows such strange attitudes I did begin to feel that the educational apartheid that seems to be reducing British social mobility is actually exceptionally malign. Of course as a Liberal, I would not ban private education, but the absurd snobbery that has been created now concerns me greatly.

The intricacy and idiocy of British snobbery still, it seems, has not died yet.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree with you whole heartedly and the key is certainly public schoool education. Perhaps the solution is not to ban it but to remove any state subsidy in the form of charitable status and let those who wish it pay the full unsubsidised price of privilege. Indeed since many of those who want private education oppose state subsidy of anything, it hardly seems right to subsidise it.

Newmania said...

That interesting although its not something I recognise at all myself . The more usual attitude s that the privileged enjoy their luxury politics at the expense of the working people of the country whose money they like to give away to foreigners so they can prance about the "world stage". Conservatives are Grammar school and attached to them , although this has changed, much to the horror of many. My experience has been that progressivism is often worn as a marker of social superiority and on occasion quite transparently so. I would say that there is probably more resentment of the Public school elites in Conservative quarters than anywhere else.

George Walden is a good exemplar

Cicero said...

Interesting Points- Certainly don't feel that the Private schools need to be subsidized by charitable status- they are a business like many others.

Not sure whether you mean that progressivism is a function of a kind of anti-snobbery, but I think that Conservatives and indeed many other people, think that anything that reduces social mobility based on merit is something that probably should be resented. I don't particular resent what this guy was doing, but I do see nasty social repurcussions if the best people do not get to fill their potnetial because some placeman who went to the "right" school gets the job instead.

Newmania said...

Not sure whether you mean that progressivism is a function of a kind of anti-snobbery

NO straight forward snobbery . It says , I have enough class ( and by implication money) not to worry about my bottom line. If you think about it left wing poltics is always both ends against the middle in some way and they upper middleclass have tended to be leftish. Clegg would be far more typical than Cameron , for example.


I have argued that Public schools should be stopped entirely myself and I approve of the lottery idea....(and vouchers ). I think education needs radical chnage and a war with the NUT akin to the war with the miners .

It will come if the Conservatives get in the views of the education team are far ahead of the Party and it is the only way to morally validate low taxes

Cicero said...

Lib Dems don't believe that the state should abolish private education- I can't see your party supporting that either! I am happy to see people educate their kids in the way they think is best- though given what I now notice about the snobbery of public schools I don't want to see my taxes subsidising their charitable status.

The fact that some people who went to private school oppose entrenched privilege is no more suprising then that anyone from any background supports it. Clegg believes in a more Liberal Society- which means the state should have less control and that individual merit is rewarded. I don't see that as a left wing position at all.

Not sure what you mean by the last paragraph- Do you mean vouchers lower the tax burden? If so, then that seems pretty unlikely as an idea. I think that there are vested interests in eduation and these should be challenged, but I don't think being directly confrontational about this will get us very far.

Newmania said...

‘I don't think being directly confrontational about this will get us very far’



Well I could unkindly suggest that is why the Liberal party never do get very far with anything . Let me quite clear then

1 It is my view that the ability to buy educational opportunity is in effect a way of monopolising societal opportunity .We clearly see the effect from the make up of the media and political class.

If you look at the income /outcome ( for children) changes of the last ten years the top slice have rocketed away from the middle whereas the middle have fallen into a lump with the rest.. who have caught up (excluding the underclass ).

This is partly to do with property/capital and the need for longer( expensive ) training but also because of the effect of private schooling now Grammars are gone and ruling elite have lost all interest in the national system.

We cannot justify low taxes and self reliance without taking central measures to correct the opportunity market, as we do all other markets. Public schools are not a freedom they are a monopoly. Otherwise it isn’t fair ? Hope thats clear enough...ie mobility justifies self reliance, otherwise Conservatism is only defence of privilege which it must not be.

Beneficiaries of this monopoly and those of the right class tend to be good at understanding the problems of the poor and bloody awful at understanding the resentment and aspiration of those immediately below them( See Clegg ). No surprise. That is why the upper middleclass despise the values fears and needs of the lower and working class . This is often expressed as progressive –ism and often linked to access to educational advantage .

There has always been this antipathy within the middleclass and it has always been expressed in education where the upper bracket supported Comprehensive education and when it did not work promptly sent their own children to private school. Yes?

That is why so many public school families are Liberal now a matter of almost febrile resentment
( That is incidentally why they so hated Margaret Thatcher which was , as they saw it , the anarchy not so much of the middle classes as the lower middle classes)

The Conservative Party is moving in the right direction in various ways but you are right there will be great resistance on fees. I do not see then retaining charitable status but it may be resolved through the plans for a voucher system ie public schools for all and a slow bearing down on the additional funding allowed . Eton can continue, Private and ( it says ...very good ) it simply cannot select on wealth. As we all know it is all about wealth really and the rest is cant

Having said that I would have freedom to enter that market as there is in Holland ( to great effect) with state £5000 vouchers ..or so freedom for schools , support for teachers and flexible pay bargaining. This would vastly increase standards as it has done elsewhere . Setting and ....a raft of policies are required all of which are on line.. Naturally the Liberal Party will not be able to touch it as they are the Party of the teachers who will not stand for accountability if they can avoid it . Hence the deafening silence . This is job for the big boys !


It is unclear to me that Nick Clegg believes in lowering taxes and he is certainly not in position to carry any such thing in his Party. If the Liberal Party were really such a beast I would have no problems with a Liberal/ Conservative alliance even allowing for a larger slice of power than seats allow . I think all such Liberals are likely to vote Conservative and especially those who are uncomfortable with looking quite so dishonest and contemptuous of accountable democracy as they do propping up the Libson lie .( I gather from the liberal blogasphere there are many of these)

But it will be ratified and we are not going to have a retrospective referendum so we start from there ...( and head out .) Opinion is moving my way fast .

Well I did drone on but these class issues are at the heart of right of centre thinking as it is found on the web at least. It is the disenfranchised betrayed lower middle class excluded and resentful, you find pouring spleen on those who think they are their betters , those who are generous with their money , those who are thoughtless of their children , those who are superior to their loyalties.

Cicero said...

One of the key reasons that I am not a Conservative is because I believe that the Conservative party IS the party that supports the privileges of the few at the expense of the many. Indeed I think your comments are a pretty coherent attack upon the Conservative ideology.

I would, however, take issue with your idea that central action must be taken to ensure self reliance. In my oppinion self reliance can only grow if the state gets out of the way completely and can not be fostered by the state at all.

Also I think you have a stereotype in your head about Nick Clegg as some kind of bleeding heart lefty. A Liberal believes in open markets (cf our long standing belief in free trade) and competition (which is why we voted against the privatisation of state monopolies). We would not abolish private schools, but try to improve competition and offer a more open access for the best kids, regardless of background. In fact the best comprehensives can certainly compete- and having worked in Bucks, where selection has been retained- I have seen some comprehensives obtaining better results than some Grammar schools, so the form of the school to my mind is not as important as the quality.

As for confronting vested interests in education, teachers have been mucked about over almost everything, to the point where record numbers are leaving the profession. One of the key problems (aside from low pay) has been the fact that teachers feel that they are not consulted about subjects where they believe thaat they have a contribution to make, like how to enforce discipline etc. It seems to me that a significant step would be to treat teachers as professionals, rather than politicians trying to second guess them and interfering all the time- cf the continuous alterations to the syllabus etc.

Newmania said...

Thanks for responding.

Lumberjack Bob said...

I played for the Canadian National Youth team in the 1978 Youth Wold Cup where the great Maradona had the pleasure of meeting me not once, but twice. I lost both my parents and my only child three years apart. I was the fortunate recipient of a Pacemaker due to grief induced heart failure. I survived cancer terminal cancer twice. I have overcome major anxiety and depression as well and alcohol and drug addiction. I taught myself how to sing and now I'm currently recording a CD to benefit children in Hospital. I have no fear of loss. I am mentally tougher and stronger than than 99.9% of the people I meet. I have developed an incredible compassion for the suffering of others and I zero tolerance for those who do not. I have earned everything I have received. Nothing was handed to me, and this has allowed me to develop character. Hardship and hardwork develop character. Character defines the individual and ayone with character can see that. The less enlightened are more easily frightened and therefore in greater need to dimnish others to the lowest common denominator, such as, who is your daddy and which high school did you go to. They need to do this to reinforce their need to believe that my high school was better than yours so that means I am better than you are. These people are simpletons whose emotional development has been stunted so badly they can be best described as being 'Severely Emotionally Retarded' and do not quite meet the criteria for someone we'd fondly think of as being 'Fully and Truely Human'. It m ight be advisable to avoid functions in which these people are present lest you spend your next morning writing blogs about "The Infantilism of the British Snob". To summarize: lack of emotional development + an inherent sense of superiority + interaction with same = the need to bang one's head against the wall and have a lenghty shower utilizing a full bar of soap and a next days Blog. No you know. Try not to make the same mistake.