Toby Young Toby Young

Club class won’t fly any more

Elite university drinking societies just make their members look out of touch  — and the networking side is overrated, too

I’m getting a lot of abuse on Twitter for saying that having been a member of the Bullingdon is more of a hindrance than a help in contemporary Britain. My comment was a response to a piece by Charlotte Proudman in the Guardian on Monday that Oxford and Cambridge’s drinking clubs ‘cement the succession of power and influence in Britain among a narrow elite’.

In response to my claim, numerous people have pointed out that the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Mayor of London were all members of the Bullingdon. The problem with this rebuttal is that merely pointing out that Cameron, Osborne and Johnson are successful politicians doesn’t, by itself, prove their membership wasn’t a hindrance. It could be that all the other advantages they enjoyed — high IQ, good education, devoted parents, bags of drive and ambition, etc. — combined to overcome the disadvantage of being associated with Oxford’s most notorious student society.

Why do I think it was a handicap? Well, for starters, every time one of those Gillman and Soame photographs showing them posing in their tailcoats is reproduced, it makes them look posh and out of touch. The photographs are rarely reprinted without a reference being made to members of the club getting drunk and smashing up restaurants — not a good look in contemporary politics. And the fact that the club was male-only instantly antagonises a decent percentage of half the population, not just radical feminists like Proudman.

But it isn’t just me who thinks the Bullingdon is a curse. Do those who believe it has helped Cameron and Osborne think the reason Ed Miliband kept harping on about it at PMQs was to boost their electoral prospects? Indeed, the very same people who are attacking me on Twitter for saying their association with an elite Oxford dining society is harmful to their reputations don’t hesitate to remind people of it at every opportunity.

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