David Cameron seems to have got himself into a bit of trouble – see Danny Finkelstein in The Times today . At the risk of being pompous I would say that I have always had an inbuilt sense of right and wrong. This is not based on religious faith still less on any moral code but on a combination of education, nurture and common-sense. I did go to a Methodist boarding school so maybe there was a subliminal absorption of principle. I claim no exceptionalism here. Surely most of us are the same?
But raise your eyes to those who think themselves born to rule and what is right can be blurred and very different. Take Britain’s last three Prime Ministers. Two of the three never had a moment’s doubt about their rights. The third was you or me – bright but ordinary. Struggling with life a bit as we all struggle with life from time to time. Unlike Theresa neither Dave nor Boris would call a memoir “My Struggle” . Because it hasn’t been.
That very posh school sets its pupils apart. It may not overtly preach its superiority these days but its culture is unquestionably elitist. All its pupils, bar a few token scholarship boys, come from the one per cent wealthy of our society (or its equivalent abroad). Eton’s dress code, rules, language and the rest combine to make its attendees different – and, by implication, superior in their eyes.
And when they get to Oxford, as many do building on their advantage? Well that Floreat Etona bond hasn’t gone away. The Bullingdon Club gave our two Etonian Prime Ministers in embryo an opportunity to reinforce their superiority. The “Bullers” broke the law to the manner born. Wrecking restaurants was part of that sense of entitlement.
If your whole childhood is predicated on privilege and a total absence of self-doubt that is your norm. And if a fellow Buller went to a “minor” public school , as George Osbourne did, he is insulted and called an “oik”. There is nothing more hierarchical than an Etonian.
In their years of employment there was no absorption of a wider social perspective for Dave of Boris. They didn’t get their hands dirty or find themselves exposed outside of their familiar class world. Johnson’s personal idiosyncrasies and character got him into trouble from time to time but he sailed effortlessly through sackings and career and marital setbacks. Cameron was squeaky clean, married into the aristocracy that gave him a milieu in which favours could be asked for and granted. All above board naturally.
So looking at the allegations of lobbying to feather your nest a bit seems not inconsistent with the privileges that went before. There is no Old Boy Network stronger than that of Eton and Oxford. And that, just like wrecking a restaurant, may have a touch of bending the rules about it. It’s not what you know it’s who you know, old boy.