Graeme Archer is a statistician and a former winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Blogging.
“I was obviously an economic adviser in the Treasury… I think that’s important because the economy and how we change our economy is at the heart of the country,” said Ed Miliband, talking about his “life experience.” He went on:
“I taught at Harvard University. I actually taught around government and economics and I think that, actually, one of the things that that did for me (was learning) to listen and engage with people about what their issues are, what they’re interested in.”
Presumably he meant “issues” other than “government and economics”, even though there’s little more important than those twin pursuits, since changing them (see his first answer) “is at the heart of the country.”
Two points occurred to me as I read about Mr Miliband’s encounter with they who must be obeyed (keen young possible voters). The first, as someone overfond of parenthetical remarks himself: I doff my hat at Mr Miliband’s expertise. He’s such a complex thinker that he managed to insert “…(was learning)…” into his second, spoken response.
[Parenthetical interlude, in Harvard:
“Hey professor,” said Annette, a government and economics student. “There’s, like, a party tomorrow night? Because all my sentences sound like a question?” “Thanks for raising that issue with me, Annette. It’s taught me to listen and engage with you. No, I won’t come. I’m re-writing a lecture on the heart of (another) country for tomorrow.”]
In fact Mr Miliband spent two terms at Harvard, on unpaid sabbatical from the Treasury. The second point that occurred on reading his text, his most important confession, is there in the third word he uttered: “obviously.” “I was obviously [my emphasis] an economic adviser in the Treasury.”
What else would a super-rich scion of a Marxist family from Hampstead end up doing, before being handed a safe seat in a part of the country with which he had zero connection, and then becoming his party’s leader thanks to the union block vote?
But here, Tory boy: Mr Miliband is “obviously” nothing special. The Tory, LibDem and UKIP leaders aren’t exactly horny-handed sons of toil either. Only that on-the-button Green Leader had anything resembling a normal job: she was a journalist.
It’s possible that there’s nothing wrong with this closed shop. You wouldn’t ask Keith “What was your life experience?” before he did your kitchen lights, and then sneer because his apprenticeship and RAF career and so on are, well, electrician-ish. Maybe it’s the same with politicians, and we should just put up with it.
I’m not sure (meaning: I am sure that there is something wrong). This will seem lateral. Bear with me.
The new “erratic Marxist” Greek economics minister was in London to meet the Chancellor this week, and his dress code attracted comment. Lots of funny tweets about George meeting up with some guy from an all-night rave.
And then I looked at the two of them again, and thought, “I look much more like the Greek Marxist than I do the British Tory.”
And I looked at the people around me at work, you know, the medicines development stuff. Most of my colleagues dress like the erratic Marxist from Greece as well.
Another leap. Also in the news was some other guy, Richard Stromback, who claimed that “networking” is over-done. Robert Crampton summarised this message (sarcastically) in The Times: people should, like, relax, and let opportunities come to them.
Stromback enraged me. Because I agree with him. Networking is the work of the devil.
True story: Keith and I, back in the day, standing about at some reception for “one of our well known political think-tanks”, and this woman comes up to me and goes: “Are you someone?” and then backs off when I confess that, no, neither of us is “someone”.
She was a piece of work, but I’ve seen the same practice operate, more or less openly, at every London political gathering I’ve attended. People desperate to press their card into your hand, who lose interest when you can’t introduce them to the minister or the editor or whoever. Sometimes nice people, as sweaty with nerves as I am; sometimes as glassy-eyed and blatant as that creature from the think-tank.
But if you’re not born into wealth and privilege, and for one demented reason or other would like to transition into politics: what else are you supposed to do? The price of entry is to dress, act and network like the rest of them. That’s why “they” look so different to “us”.
“They” flit from their public schools to media/City/ government, before “going into” politics. A bedrock of inherited wealth lends itself to the speculative currency of “folk their parents and teachers knew” (those “unpaid” sabbaticals!) They learn the uniform, the speech patterns, the tone along the way. Working class girls and boys network because they’re desperately playing catch-up. And swathes of others don’t bother, because the rules are so artificial, and ridiculous.
In terms of class and money, all four party leaders look more or less identical; which might explain (the narcissism of small differences) why they become so hysterical when trying to prove their normality. The most achingly under-represented category in politics isn’t to do with any fashionable modern categories of identity. The people who are most glaringly missing are those who either cannot or will not learn to play the rules of the sabbatical-taking, intern-flitting, inter-connected, uber-networked upper-middle-class. That is: working-class people with intellect and vision, but not the poxy suits or fancy accents or always-helpful friends.
Perhaps Mr Miliband could have a think about this. Maybe someone should form a party to give such people a voice?