The Plastic Hippo

August 17, 2014

Bright young things

Via Getty Images

Via Getty Images

There has been some rather lurid speculation that a small group of Old Etonians are formulating the manner, style and objectives of government but this conspiracy theory is as unbelievable as the outrageous allegations made against famous, white, wealthy middle-aged men and their innocent leisure activities. The power does not derive from Eton but from a little way up the M40 amid the dreaming spires of Oxford.

As sinister Conservative grandees, ambitious cabinet ministers, a scheming opposition and powerful media figures connive, plot and sharpen knives to see who will inherit Cameron`s mess, it is tertiary education rather than an elitist private school than is informing policy. When Boris Johnson was questioned about his feelings that David Cameron achieved a first but he was awarded a lesser degree, the Mayor of London helpfully pointed out that his degree was in Classics and Cameron`s degree was in the “Mickey Mouse” subject of Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Boris seemed to infer that a PPE from Oxford carried as much gravitas as a degree in Media Studies from the University of Oakham and Greater Rutland.

Johnson might have a point in suggesting that PPE is a bit like General Studies A-Level where you only have to turn up with a pen at the examination but a surprising number of the ruling elite have passed through Oxford with a pen and come out the other side with a PPE degree.

Apart from Cameron; William Hague, Philip Hammond, Jeremy Hunt, Elizabeth Truss, Danny Alexander and Ed Davey all did PPE at Oxford. Previous ministers include Edwina Currie, Chris Huhne, Nigel Lawson, Anne Widdecombe and David Willets.

On the other side of the house Ed Miliband, Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper and Rachel Reeves did well from PPE as did Peter Mandelson, Jacqui Smith and David Miliband.

Other alumni include Tony Benn, Barbara Castle, Michael Foot, Edward Heath, Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams and Harold Wilson. Foreigners also studied PPE at Oxford including Aung San Suu Kyi, Benazir Bhutto and Tony Abbott as well as a host of Prime Ministers and Presidents of dozens of failing states including a certain Bill Clinton who did not manage to complete his degree.

The course, however, is not the exclusive preserve of wannabe politicians. Hacks and media types have also passed through the hallowed halls including Jackie Ashley, Zeinab Badawi, Michael Crick, Evan Davis, Stephanie Flanders, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Guto Harri, Mehdi Hasan, Peter Jay, Simon Jenkins, Ian Katz, John Sergeant, Andreas Whittam Smith and Toby Young. The Director-General of the BBC Tony Hall is an old boy as are Nick Robinson, David Dimbleby and Rupert Murdoch.

Eton might turn the privileged child into a boy, but we might want to ask what exactly Oxford is teaching to PPE graduates.

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