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Hugo Rifkind

Why do journalists think they’re not part of the ruling elite?

11 May 2013

9:00 AM

11 May 2013

9:00 AM

Look, we’ve known each other a while, you and I, so I think it’s time for a confession. It’s a big one, this. I haven’t even told my parents yet. But I think I might be a member of the ruling elite.

Granted, it doesn’t feel that way of a morning, when I’m using my thumbnail to scratch baby vomit off my shoulder on the bus to Finsbury Park. But then, maybe it never does. Columnist for The Spectator, leader writer for the Times, the public school- and Oxbridge-educated son of a Conservative former Cabinet minister; hmm, hard to fight it. There have been five prime ministers in my lifetime, and I’ve met three of them and been in the same room as the other two. So let’s be objective about this. What I think about it is neither here nor there.

Only, here’s what’s worrying me. If I’m in the ruling elite, how come Charles Moore isn’t? His is the first column I read in this paper every week, and I’m a huge fan and frankly wish I could be writing this bit about somebody else. But he said something last week which gave me a jolt. ‘The ruling elites have very, very slowly caught up with public understanding,’ he wrote, in an otherwise flawless item about benefits. And if there was an implicit mea culpa in here, well, it was too implicit for me.

I don’t think there was, though. ‘They all belong to a political elite whose attitudes and careers are pretty different from those of the rest of us,’ he also wrote — this Eton- and Oxbridge-educated former editor of the Daily Telegraph and The Spectator — a few weeks ago, of David Cameron and his friends. And I dare say he meant it, too. Strange is the class divide that has me on one side and Charles Moore on the other, with the miners.


Searching through recent commentary, though, post local elections,there’s a lot of this stuff around. Peter Oborne, it turns out, isn’t a member of the ruling elite either. Nor Trevor Kavanagh, nor David Davis, nor even Roy Hattersley. Similarly, vast numbers of political journalists turn out to not be in the ‘political class’, which I guess I must be in, too. I wonder what I’m doing so right?

I think it’s because I live in north London. I really do. This makes me ‘metropolitan’ and thereby ‘aloof’, even though nine tenths of this country live lives as urban as mine, and if we’re all being aloof to the other 10 per cent, I think you’d technically need a different word for it. The upshot, anyway, is that like our Prime Minister and also our Chancellor, I get this ‘aloof’ and ‘elite’ business thrown at me from both sides. For the left, I’m dining with the bankers and permanent secretaries, quaffing port and oppressing the proletariat. There’s something more complex going on with the right, but I think I’m supposed to be cycling into Downing Street on a folding bike, to have meetings with people like Alan Yentob about making Britain’s kids gay and turning your church into a wind turbine.

It’s the latter which bothers me more. I mean, come on guys. I can take it, but I worry about you. The right is supposed to be better than this. This is precisely what the left does when it finds itself losing the argument, which is to blame it on a bogeyman overlord who is impervious to argument anyway. It’s the language of victimhood, and it’s disempowering and pernicious. Yes, it’s dumb as hell that Cameron can’t see a round hole without reaching for an Old Etonian peg to hammer into it, but dumb is all it is. It’s not indicative of a wider mindset, which stretches out along green benches and into newspaper columns. It’s simply indicative of him being a complete fool.

I get the point of Ukip; I really do. I sneer sometimes, yes, but that’s at the clunking delivery, not the philosophy on which it rests. There are, obviously, more than a few people in this country who feel that mainstream politics no longer speaks to them. Frankly, mainstream politics ought to. But that failure doesn’t mean that the mainstream has been hijacked by a shadowy, self-serving metrosexual cabal. What bothers me is this sense of the new right desperately wanting to believe that it does. That way lies the irrelevant comfort zone of self-declared dispossession. Cut it out.

A feeling for Europe

Europe, meanwhile. Lord Lawson’s intervention in the Times — on why Britain should leave the EU — was a powerful one, and there will be far better people writing about it on these pages than me. What struck me, though, was his lack of tangible examples as to what difference an exit would actually make to people living in the UK. Yet that’s not a particular criticism, because advocates of staying in are equally vague about the tangible harms if we left.

So much of any Europe debate is about feelings, preferences and ideologies, rather than any sort of nuts and bolts.The more I mull it over, the more I think our best way forward is either to secretly leave but tell everybody we are staying, or secretly stay and tell everybody we are leaving. All bases covered, either way.

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