19.6.19

BRITAIN'S CLUELESS ESTABLISHMENT?

Stumbling and Mumbling reflects on the popularity of Boris Johnson, who appears to be emulating some of Our President's style. In some ways, things are different.
Most top journalists went to private schools. They therefore regard Johnson as “one of us”. For the same reason, they regard a public school-educated commodities broker with suspected links to Russian oligarchs and who doesn’t listen to music or watch TV as a “man of the people.”

It’s not just personal homophily that makes the Tories the familiar option, though. Being privately educated inculcates people into shared presumptions such as about what counts as “educated” (classical references do but numeracy doesn't); what matters (economics doesn’t) and who is or is not part of “the country”.

Much of the media and the Tory party have other things in common, though. One is a shared conception of what politics is – an Oxford Union-style game of jockeying for position. The BBC, like much of the media, is obviously happier covering the Tory leadership race than it is covering substantial policy which ends up, in Humphrys’ words. “all getting a wee bit technical and I’m sure people are fed up to the back teeth of all this talk of stuff most of us don’t clearly understand.” It thus sees Johnson as a player of a game it understands, whilst it ruthlessly othered technocrats such as Ed Balls or Ed Miliband*. In the same way, the failure to see that politics can be a project of building mass movements has lent the BBC a bias against Corbynites and other activists.
The British terms "public" and "private" don't mean "government" or "non-profit" as they denote in the States. "Private," however, means relatively elite, perhaps contrasting Choate or Sidwell Friends with St. Mary works.  Punditocracies, however, work the same whether they're in London or New York.  Thus, the latest polls are more interesting than the policy details, even when the policy details are offered as an obligation, rather than as something substantive.
Also, the media prefers human interest stories to theories of emergence, in which social outcomes for good or bad are the product of human behaviour but not design**. This too lends a bias towards seeing politics as a clash of characters rather than as a more complex process.
Oh, sure, go on a Sunday show, or whatever the British equivalent is, and say, "all this talk about polling data or comprehensive reform or what have you is nonsense," and see how many call-backs you get.  Apparently, though, there's the same sort of insular establishment in Britain as there is in the States.
I’m complaining about a tendency for everybody to inhabit bubbles in which they are unaware of the partiality of their own perspective. I suspect this is an increasing problem, caused by decline of two otherwise different characters: the aristocratic Tory who crouched in foxholes with working class men; and the upwardly mobile working class man who enters posher circles. For me personally, the most attractive of the Tory candidates is the (yes, Etonian) Rory Stewart whose career suggests a willingness to step out of a comfort zone of his own background and presumptions.

Such a failure to see that one is in a bubble is perhaps forgivable for those on both the left and right. Whether it is quite so forgivable for the BBC, which pretends to be impartial, is another question.
Public broadcasters gotta public broadcast.

The broader point, though, might be that the Traditional Rulers ought have a better claim to legitimacy than "We've always done it this way."  You'd think events such as the exit from the European Union and the yellow vests and the Trump presidency might have concentrated some well-educated minds.  Particularly if they get classical references.  These might be the best times to be out-of-touch elites as there are no war-crime trials, guillotines, or gibbets in common use.

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