When he was in opposition David Cameron achieved some kind of notoriety by talking about 'broken Britain' - a reflection on the perceived negative culture of broken families, single parents, child abuse, benefit cheats and the like. The cry was soon taken up by that fine example of upstanding morality, good taste and intellectual rigour, The Sun newspaper. I don't think anyone could not conceivably dispute that in some respects Cameron had a point - there is clearly much to concern us about the prevailing culture of our island. It's often difficult and disheartening to seek for 'good news' in what I too often sadly see as a dumbed down and get rich quick society.
|The Oxfordshire Set? Broken Britain?|
No, the Cheshire Set at Ellie's sixth Birthday Party - Jan 2011
I've thought much about these things in recent days after the revelations that David Cameron attended Sunday lunch with the 'Oxfordshire Set' - which apparently comprised of politicians, celebrities and senior newspaper and media personnel from News International and the like. This was against the background of the News of the World exposes - phone hacking, the awarding of vast contracts to SKY, issues of irregularities in the Metropolitan police investigations and the like. And, there was me, for all these years, believing that anyone in the 'Oxfordshire Set’ must be something to aspire to and to admire from afar. A group that would define itself by its academic excellence, its intellectual rigour, its social exclusiveness, its good taste and its moral and ethical purity. In short, the cream of English society. And now, I discover, this group who lunch together is in fact comprised of what one could only describe as riffraff - upper class examples of broken Britain - and arguably closely linked with a number of very dubious and perhaps illegal events. Rebekah Brooks, for example, who has worked for and headed some of the nation’s most scurrilous newspapers - the Sun (the same paper who castigated the low life of Britain and took up Cameron's cry of a broken society) and the News of the World. A woman who was once condemned by a chief constable as being ‘grossly irresponsible’ . A woman who, in 'Who’s Who', makes dubious claims about her higher education credentials. A woman who allegedly assaulted her first husband and then married a race horse trainer of dubious reputation and known as a 'champagne Charlie’. Charlie is a fine pillar of society - writes a racing column for the Daily Telegraph which is read by the royals we are told. Oh, just one tiny blemish - he earned his fortune by setting up a sex-toy mail order business - but we won't talk about that, it sounds just too lower class. But, Charlie and Rebekah married in a tasteful 'lakeside' ceremony on their estate – complete, I'm sure, with blow up dolls. Oh, and I see that various senior members of an international media empire - the Murdochs - are also part of the Oxfordshire set – an empire that has had numerous scrapes with the law in various countries and in our own country one of its many tentacles is currently embroiled in serious allegations of illegal activities in relation to phone hacking. And what's this? That epitome of male chauvinism and tasteless boorish 'blokishness', Jeremy Clarkson, is in the Set. Good old Jeremy - oh, what a wag he is, don't we love his rudeness - he allegedly plays cards with Bono when the U2 front man (who in recent years has superficially, at least, almost become a saint such are his many good works and words) drops in to join the revels. We all know what wonderful good these people do - in Bono's case at least that is perhaps true - but we won't mention the fact that Vertigo, the company set up by Bono to channel his receipts, is set up so that tax is minimised. Nor will we mention that Jeremy's destruction of the atmosphere with his penchant for high speed cars might be a little passée in this day and age. When Jeremy does his boy racer routines we all chuckle and dream of owning the Ferrari or the Aston but when the boy racers thunder down my street I want the police onto them ASAP! It seems there's one law for the rich and one for the rest. But, there's nobody here I would want to break bread with or indeed buy a used car from - but they are the Oxfordshire Set.
And then........ into this august gathering sweeps the prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland – the Head of Her Majesty’s Government and member for Oxford Witney – he too, we discover, is a member of the Oxfordshire Set. And this all goes on against a backdrop of intrigue relating to allegations of media and possible police misbehaviour plus the awarding of huge financial rewards if the Prime Minister’s government allow a planned business manoeuvre involving SKY and News International to go ahead.
From where I stand it has the look of a Gilbert and Sullivan satire about it. W.S. Gilbert really couldn't have dreamed up a better list of characters to mock and parody. As the News of the World would proclaim (as it does about itself) - 'all life is here.' Absolutley true, but with one additional word - 'all low life is here'. But even better that G & S! Is Colin Dexter around? Can Morse be resurrected? Morse, that scourge of wrong doers in Oxfordshire would soon have them sorted. He’d soon spot the villains. Morse and Lewis would soon show the Oxfordshire set up for what they really are - a group of shady characters, none of whom should be trusted and each of whom is out to make a fast buck at the expense of lesser mortals.
No, the 'Oxfordshire Set' is not the cream of English society. They’re just a set of opportunists of little intellectual standing, no ethical or cultural foundations and even less taste. In short, they are a classic example of 'broken Britain' - just as insidious and potentially damaging as the benefit cheats and the like. Indeed, because of the 'power' - either real or perceived - that they wield via their professional life or as 'movers and shakers' on TV, in the news and the pages of celebrity culture magazines like 'Hello' people such as this mould the life style of the nation and so wield a disproportionate influence. Rather like a recipe - if these are the ingredients we put in at the top, we shouldn't be too surprised at the messy cake that pops out at the bottom!
I am not naive. This sort of thing has of course, always, 'gone on'. The doings of the celebrities, the stars, those in government or royalty have probably always been less than virtuous. The difference is, of course, that as each successive government insists on more 'accountability' and 'transparency', as the media and the internet expose more 'secrets', the life styles of those in the public eye become visible to ordinary people. And, people being people, see the celebrities doing it, and think (quite rightly) 'I'll have some of that.' It is, in a perverse, negative way, what the coalition government, in its infinite wisdom, is calling 'nudge' politics - that is changing the behaviour of people by 'nudging' them. Showing them displays of healthy food will encourage them to take it up - it's a proven psychiatric/quasi scientific method of moulding behaviour. Our Secretary of State for Culture, the RH Jeremy Hunt (the member for SW Surrey) is keen on this (he, too, is part of the Oxfordshire Set and breaks bread at the same Sunday table) - and so too is RH Michael Gove,the member for Surrey Heath and Minister of Education. Oh, and for good measure, we must not forget the RH Grant Shapps, Minister of State for Housing and Planning, and member for Welwyn Hatfield - he's also into 'nudging.' Well, my feeling is that all this nudging by those in power is simply nudging more and more people into being a bit more 'broken' and less of a 'society'. If its good enough for the toffs then its good enough for me, I say! If blow up dolls, underhand deals, scurrilous newspapers, 'grossly irresponsible behaviour', blokish comments and the like are what the Oxfordshire Set 'do', and are good enough for the gentry of Surrey and Welwyn and Oxfordshire's leafy lanes then it's certainly good enough for me - and I'm sure its good enough for the residents of the council estates of Nottingham and the inner city streets of Bradford and the scousers of Liverpool. The only difference is that in Oxfordshire its called the 'Oxfordshire Set' but in Bradford our PM and the Sun call it 'broken Britain'!
But, what I find really worrying is that our Prime Minister thinks it is reasonable to mix with these people – Gilbert and Sullivan would make much of that. David Cameron not only looks a fool and a buffoon – straight out of the Savoy operas – he looks a shameless fool and buffoon - and a fundamental part of the broken Britain. When he and the government talk of 'broken Britain' then a phrase which has something to do with glass houses and throwing stones springs to mind!