Posts Tagged ‘Harrow’

The Privileged Class Background of BBC Staff, and the Problem of Oxbridge Public School Elitism

August 26, 2017

Earlier this week I put up a piece reviewing Tom Mills’ The BBC – Myth of a Public Service. This contributes immensely to the debate about the Corporation’s bias by showing how it consistently allies with the elite against the left and the working class.

And Mills makes a very strong case that, apart with the institutional methods of control the government exercises over the Beeb through the license fee and the appointment of its governors, the BBC also sides with the elite because of the elite, upper and very middle class origins of its managers and staff. Mills describes this background on pages 29 and 30. He writes

A 2014 report of the quasi-official Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission had no qualms about identifying these top BBC executives, and over a hundred other senior BBC managers, as members of ‘Britain’s elite’ – along with politicians, civil servants, the super-rich, FTSE 350 CEOs, newspaper columnists and other groups. The Commission’s survey of 125 BBC executives found that 26 per cent had attended private school (compared with 7 per cent of the population), 33 per cent had attended Oxbridge (compared with just 0.8 per cent of the population) and 62 per cent had attended one of the Russell Group of leading universities (compared with 11.4 per cent of the population) – figures which were comparable with those for other factions of Britain’s power elite, as the report shows. Senior BBC managers are also extremely well paid: in 2014/15, the seven executive members of the BBC’s Executive Board earned an average of over £424,000. Meanwhile, around eighty BBC executives are thought to earn over £150,000, even after policy measures were put in place to reduce executive pay following fierce criticism from the press. Among this executive cadre are around a hundred or so senior managers in editorial policy who on average earn just over £100,000, and the most senior of whom can earn two or three times that.

Below these senior editorial managers, we see similar patterns of privilege. In 2006, the Sutton Trust examined the educational backgrounds of 100 leading news journalists in the UK, of whom 31 worked at the BBC. It found that 54 per cent were privately educated and a remarkable 45 per cent had attended Oxbridge. Educational background is of course an indicator of shared class background. But it is also in itself a profoundly important basis for elite cohesion, forging along with other formative experiences, if not a shared set of ideas, then at least a shared demeanour and set of dispositions. Elitist recruiting practices – which are naturally justified in meritocratic terms, even if they are recognized to create serious problems in terms of legitimacy – thus create subtle forms of institutional and cross-institutional cohesion.

This bears out a comment made by one of the television directors Mike and I heard speak over two decades ago at a Doctor Who convention here in Bristol. He stated that it was very difficult to become a director at the Beeb unless you had been to Oxford or Cambridge. If you hadn’t, it was very difficult. If you had, on the other hand, it was very easy.

As for Oxbridge, I’m currently reading Gregory Benford’s SF novel Timescape (London: Gollancz 1980). The novel’s plot is split between the devastated Britain of 1998 and the optimistic California of 1963, as a group of scientists in Cambridge attempt to use tachyons to carry a message back to their counterparts in La Jolla to warn them of the coming ecological crisis which is gradually causing global civilization to collapse. Benford is an American, and one of the team of Cambridge scientists, Gregory Markham, also hails from across the Pond. The book therefore includes descriptions and meditations on Britain’s relationship to its past, compared with America, and the class structure of British society. On page 182, Benford comments on the educational segregation at Cambridge High Table.

He walked back towards the colleges, letting this feel of the press of time seep into him. He and Jan had been to High Table at several of the colleges, the ultimate Anglophile experience. Memorial plate that gleamed like quicksilver, and crested goblets. In the after-dinner room of polished wood, gilt frames held glowering portraits of the college founders. In the great dining hall Jan had been surprised to find de facto segregation: Etonians at one table, Harrovians at another, the lesser public schools’ alumni at a third, and, finally, state school graduates and everyone else at a motley last table. To an American in such a citadel of education, after the decades of ferocious equality-at-all-costs politics, it seemed strange. There persisted a reliance on inherited advantages, and even the idea that such a system was an inherited virtue as well.

This is not too far removed from the description of outright class snobbery Thackeray describes in his Book of Snobs. Casting his eye about England’s great, and at the time, only universities, he noted the way the class system affected even the type of gowns undergraduates wore:

If you consider, dear reader, what profound snobbishness the University system produced, you will allow that it is time to attack some of those feudal middle-age superstitions. If you go down for five shillings to look at the ‘College Youths’, you may see one sneaking down the court without a tassel to his cap; another with a gold or silver fringe to his velvet trencher; a third lad with a master’s gown and hat,, walking at ease over the sacred College grass-plats, which common men must not tread on.

Me may do it because he is a nobleman. Because a lad is a lord, the University grants him a degree at the end of two years which another is seven in acquiring. Because he is a lord, he has no call to go through an examination. Any man who has not been to College and back for five shillings [the price of the train fare to Oxford and Eton], would not believe in such distinctions in a place of education, so absurd and monstrous do they seem to be.

The lads with gold and silver lace are sons of rich gentlemen, and called Fellow Commoners; they are privileged to feed better than the pensioners, and to have wine with their victuals, which the latter can only get in their rooms.

The unlucky boys who have no tassels to their caps, are called sizars – servitors at Oxford – (a very pretty and gentlemanlike title). A distinction is made in their clothes because they are poor; for which reason they wear a badge of poverty, and are not allowed to take their meals with their fellow-students.(pp. 60-61).

One of the other, British characters in Benford’s novel, Renfrew, who has the idea of using tachyon radiation to transmit to the past, is also an outsider. He’s the son of a working class Yorkshireman, and because of this is also an outsider amongst the public schoolboys. At one point Renfrew remembers how, as an undergraduate walking down Oxford’s corridors, he passes another pair in gowns. One of these says very loudly in an Oxbridge drawl, ‘Oh God, not another oik come up on a scholarship!’

Oxford has been under considerable pressure to make its more democratic, and Robert Peston has said in his book, Who Runs Britain, that there’s an element of hypocrisy amongst some of the Scots universities, who tried to capitalize on the class scandals that have erupted over Oxbridge in recent years. Some of the Scots universities, particularly St. Andrews’, are even more elite and class-ridden.

It’s tempting to think of those days of class snobbishness as having vanished along with scholarships. However, as the Tories are intent are privatizing the British school system, and really, desperately, want to bring back grammar schools if they can get away with it, as well as cut away the last vestiges of the student grant to the poor, it’s likely that they’ll come back.

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Vox Political: The Cooperative Party Fighting Back against New Labour Infiltration?

September 10, 2016

Mike today has posted up an interesting little piece about the Cooperative Party’s plans to develop some distinctive policies of its own. The party has been allied to Labour since 1927, and has 25 MPs elected on a joint ticket. Gareth Thomas, the MP for Harrow West, who chairs the party, has said that the party will be developing its own distinctive policies ahead of centenary next year in 2017. Among the policies suggested is the representation of carers on the boards of companies providing social care services, and that the care workers for those companies should be able to take over those companies if they’re going to close or change hands. Mike comments that these are excellent policies.

The party has also stated that it is staying neutral in the leadership contest, and has rejected the idea that it is going to be infiltrated by right-wing Labour MPs, who want to split away and turn it into a vehicle for their own campaign against Jeremy Corbyn. Mike comments that the policies look like they’re deliberately formulated as part of a backlash against attempts by the Blairites to take over the party. He is, however, sceptical about how neutral it really is in the leadership contest. He asks how many of its MPs signed the letter supporting Owen Smith.

Mike’s piece is at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/09/09/is-co-operative-partys-new-stance-a-backlash-against-new-labour-takeover-bid/

G.D.H. Cole in the 1940s wrote a massive history of the cooperative movement, A Century of Cooperation. It’s astonishing now, after the co-op has largely turned itself into a mainstream supermarket, how revolutionary co-operatives were, and how deeply ingrained they were as part of working class life. In their time, they were seen as a genuinely revolutionary movement that would superseded capitalism. The vast majority of co-operatives were retail, but producers’ cooperatives, in which the workers also had a share in management, also existed. I think all workers should have the opportunity to take over and run failing companies, just as a few were given such power way back in the 1970s by Labour party. A few years ago I reblogged a video on the way the Argentinian economy was partly saved by its workers taking over failing economies, with comments by the veteran American radical, Naomi Wolf. Since then, most have returned to being normal capitalist enterprises. Nevertheless, the success of these companies does show that workers also can be good managers.

Vox Political: Study Shows Council-Run Schools Better than Academies

April 26, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has put up a piece on a report in today’s Guardian, showing that schools run by local authorities perform better than academies and free schools. The study by the Local Government Association found that 86% of state-run schools were classed as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, compared with 82% of academies and 79% of free schools. Furthermore, local government-run schools were better at improving. 98% of local government schools had done so by the time of their first Ofsted inspection, after being rate ‘inadequate’. The figure for academies was ten per cent lower 88 per cent.

The same article in the Guardian reported that Thicky Nicky would not be drawn on questions about negotiations with Tory councils to allow them to run some of the academies, in order to avoid a backbench revolt.

Mike makes the point that this shows that the Tories’ desire to privatise the education system is driven by ideology, not fact, and that Thicky Nicky is flagrantly incompetent. He has recommended that she be returned to the back benches.

The article can be read at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/04/26/local-authority-schools-outperform-academies-proving-thicky-nicky-wants-the-worst-for-your-children/

I agree that Thicky Nicky should go back to where she came from, but ultimately, she isn’t to blame. The rot started long, long before, when Maggie Thatcher started ball rolling about taking schools out of local government control. It was then picked up by Tony Blair, who launched the academy system. Now it’s being massively extended by David Cameron, who, as a public-school toff, probably believes that privatising these schools will magically turn them into the prole equivalent of Eton, Harrow and the rest. I’m not exaggerating. Years ago Private Eye reviewed Danny Danziger’s Eton Voices, which quoted one old Etonian as saying that schools would improve if their pupils were given the same confidence that Eton gives its pupils. The Eye’s reviewer attacked the vacuity of this statement by sarcastically stating that it was so profound, it was worthy of the SDP in its prime. This to my mind seems a bit harsh on the SDP.

What the study does is disprove thirty years of Thatcherite propaganda: that private management is always superior to that of the state, and that the privatisation of a concern or enterprise will automatically solve its problems as if by some weird economic magic. It clearly doesn’t. But this won’t stop Cameron and the rest of them, who are ideologically wedded to the idea. They also have a powerful vested interest themselves in education’s privatisation. They’re the children of the haute bourgeoisie, and have a class interest in extending private ownership. They are also funded very handsomely by big business, and often have personal links to the companies lining up to buy up the remains of the state sector, and so have personal reasons for wanting education privatised. After all, we wouldn’t want to disappoint Rupert Murdoch and his aspirations to run an education chain.

Thicky Nicky’s role in all this is actually quite minor. She’s just the latest face shoved in front of the public to sell the policy. She replaced Michael Gove, who was also less than competent, and will probably be replaced by someone else in the next cabinet reshuffle. The ultimate responsibility is David Cameron’s. He’s the one who really should be overthrown, and have to trudge back to the back benches.