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Gönderen Konu: Views On the Conservatives' Annual Conference- Manchester 2011  (Okunma sayısı 1856 defa)

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Ekim 03, 2011, 09:21:07 ös
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Libby Purves

Jeers about accidents of birth are boring, bullying and dull-witted. Policy, not poshness, is what really matters

As the Tory conference rolls down the slipway, we shall observe an interesting atavism: the last sneering, generalising discrimination permitted in our liberal land. It is not the rough-and-tumble of combative politics, not healthy ideological disagreement. Ladies and gentlemen, prepare to witness Britain’s last unpunishable hate crime: toff-bashing Toryphobia.

If you are born female, gay, Jewish, Muslim, disabled, black or Welsh, nobody may make insulting generalisations about you. The law forbids it. If, however, accident of birth put you through an affluent family and an expensive, rigorous education, and you used it to go to a top university, then however well-meaning and hard working you are, it’s open season. Similarly, if you join most political parties short of the BNP, generalisations are cautious. Few assume that all Liberal Democrats are adulterers with kitten-snatching wives, or that the Labour whip makes you a cloth-capped Communist. But “Tory” can be used as an unanswerable insult. “Tory toff” even more so.

This has been annoying for years, even to us mild lefties, and obstructs proper argument. But since the coalition, I tip over into pure exasperation and shout: “Boring!” I cannot have been alone in groaning when the radical Sixties playwright Edward Bond explained at the weekend why he is letting his mould-breaking play Saved be revived. He says we need its famous parable of moral and social deprivation (penned under Harold Wilson’s Labour premiership, by the way) in which working-class youths stone a baby to death. We need it because “it occurred to me when the coalition got in that it was going to be the worst Government since the 1930s”.

Worse than the middle-class Thatcher or Heath? Now why do you suppose that conviction sprang to mind, not only for Mr Bond but for many others? Had David Cameron uttered monstrous threats? Had George Osborne promised to abolish welfare? No. Had they, in fact, formed a willing alliance with a minority leftish party and made its inexperienced leader deputy PM? Yes. But, ugh, look at them. Etonians. Public schoolboys. Evil!

Or listen to the Today programme. A Prime Minister dealing with unprecedented street riots (largely by a generation raised under Labour, as it happens) gets barracked about having, long ago, been in a club known for arrogant mayhem. Nobody can prove that he broke any windows himself, but owning its tailcoat is clearly heinous. And yesterday The Observer celebrated the governing party’s conference with a long, smeary article about Mr Osborne. It cites the dreadful fact that at 17 he obeyed a call to play in a school rugby match rather than debate CND, and at Oxford campaigned too strongly to run the Junior Common Room entertainments committee. At the Bullingdon he was present (though apparently “mildly alarmed” and calmly watching the football) at a party when a youth passed out drunk and was “tended by a butler”.

He also may have seen someone snorting cocaine on the top of a bus, though nobody is sure he was on the same deck. How, cries the appalled writer, “did an undergraduate who supposedly [note that weasel word] smashed up furniture and downed tequila get from there to become Chancellor of the Exchequer?”

Possibly the most vapid “exposé” ever published, but never mind, Mr Osborne looks like a toff, as does Mr Cameron. Cartoonists drag out again and again the theme of the PM in an Eton collar, top hat and bow tie. There are endless cheap lines on news quizzes and in tweets about “plump, pale, posh faces”, floppy hairdos and facial expressions. The Observer quotes someone saying that Mr Osborne has his “mouth curled into a permanent sneer, so it looks as if he’s laughing when he announces yet more cuts to public services”. Nor is it just ministers who get the treatment: google “Boris Johnson toff” and you get 29,300 results, leading with Polly Toynbee’s “jester, toff, serial liar and sociopath”, followed by a fellow classicist complaining that he gives Latin and Greek a bad name by being “posh, white [and] public school”. And there was Mr Johnson thinking that he was encouraging it with his bouncy, jokey enthusiasm.

For all the drooling appreciation of clunky Downton Abbey, you can’t do right if you’re considered a living “toff”. At best, you’re Lord Snooty from The Beano, at worst a conspiracy. Posh, a mildly entertaining play at the Royal Court, majored on a Bullingdon-type outing with atrocious violent and sexual behaviour and an after-story in which the worst beast rises to power unscathed, shielded by a shadowy Tory establishment.

This is not political debate. It is not honest. It lacks detail and punch. It is purveyed often by affluent media stars, Twitterati and comedy royalty who themselves form pretty tight networks of mutual admiration and scoff at outsiders. It is a lazy, malicious, envious way of avoiding any tussle with the real practical issues facing the bruising, stressful, not particularly well paid trade of national administration. The image of the callously out-of-touch Tory rich boy is as unfair as the (rightly decried) jeers at John Prescott’s malapropisms or calling the former Speaker Michael Martin “Gorbals Mick”.

There are plenty of vigorous reasons to attack the present Government’s policies, so why degrade them with empty cliché? Even if you’re just a satirist rather than a serious commentator? Why so lazy? Face it: for every idiot Tory toff MP claiming for his duck house there was an idiot Labour one chalking up rockeries and porn films. Politicians should be prodded and challenged on what they do now, not how they grew up.

Caring or not caring about fellow citizens has rarely had much to do with poshness. Recipients of expensive educations can use them well, with a sense of debt. William Beveridge (Charterhouse and Balliol) was author of the welfare state. Arthur Balfour, a thorough toff, pushed through universal free education. Robert Peel (Harrow and Christ Church) first introduced education for prison inmates and drew out the ethics of modern policing.

Long before his fight to abolish slavery, William Wilberforce at Cambridge was a wild boozer and gambler with a substantial inherited fortune. Automatic toff-bashing is boring, bullying and dull-witted. If the Conservatives talk nonsense at their conference, tell them so. But honestly.


thetimes.co.uk


 

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