Wednesday, August 20, 2008

New Tory adviser: "I was not allowed to talk to the servants"

Recess Monkey carries news that the latest recruit to the Tory 'fairness' team is Jonty Olliff-Cooper, who joins from being a school master at Eton College. A lot is said about the number of Old Etonians in the upper echelons of the Tory Party, but I will have nothing to do with that kind of puerile class warfare.

Instead, what interests me is how many of the future rulers of the country are alumni of Magdalen College, Oxford, where I had the great good fortune to study a few years ago. Famous Magdalenenses include George Osborne himself, William Hague and Boris Johnson. Amongst the younger generation of advisers who are preparing the way to implement radical schools reform under a future Tory government include Jonty and Sam Freedman, the Research Director for educational research of Policy Exchange, and probably many others.

There appear to be two strands to the Conservative approach to fairness which Osborne has outlined. One, which I've written about before, is the 'more vicious than Thatcherism' strand - for example their welfare reform policies. But it would be a mistake to pretend that all Tory policies can be characterised in that way.

If the Tories think that the problem with our country's education system is that over the years we have failed to give bright young men from the political elite enough of a chance to try out their new theories, then they could do a lot worse than listen to well intentioned people like Jonty and Sam. I've met them both, and they are worlds away from some of the revolting Tory nobbers that were around in Oxford.

But I think that this is an example of the way in which in many ways the Tories are preparing to continue and build on some of the worst mistakes of New Labour. A history degree from Magdalen College is not, in fact, good experience for designing and ensuring the implementation of a multi billion pound complex IT project of the kind which will be needed to introduce school vouchers. And a common cause of policy failure is that the people designing the policies don't have the real life experience to understand how their ideas will actually end up affecting real people. There is nothing in what Osborne, Gove and chums have been saying or doing, or the advisers that they will be listening to, to suggest that they've learned this lesson.

But the real reason for writing this post is that it is an excuse to share with you what I think is a perfect example of the new 'compassionate Conservatism'. A few years ago, Jonty was on a telly programme called 'Upstairs, Downstairs', where a family went back to living as the Edwardians did. Afterwards, he explained what he found negative about the experience:

"I think what was most disturbing about the project, was the way in which we were obliged to treat humans badly...

For example, I was not allowed to talk to the servants, or to see the conditions that they lived and worked in until the very last day. It was not my place to inquire whether they were having a good day, whether they had too much work, or what was going on below stairs. I found this quite a strain. I hate the idea that they could have been hating us behind our backs. I tried my hardest not to give the many more work them was necessary. I almost always dressed myself, ran my own bath, shaved myself, and so on. These are all things that I could have asked my footman to do for me. But I know that he had enough to. The only thing I really needed help with was putting on my leather riding-boots. These were exceptionally small, so I had to have Charles to help me to fit my breaches into them...

I would imagine that working at the coal face as it were, in the kitchens, scrubbing and scraping was the most unpleasant part. Coming up to have a brief chat in our sumptuous surroundings upstairs was probably not too bad. Of course, I have no real idea, as convention prevented us from speaking freely or often."


At 7:41 am , Blogger Chris Brooke said...

Boris Johnson was at Balliol.

At 10:19 am , Anonymous tim f said...

Shhhh! You're spoiling Balliol's lefty reputation.

Dan - was Jonty Oliff-Cooper one of the Tory Reform Group at Oxford? I didn't think so. If so, he might not have been one of the worst, but he excused and didn't challenge some of the worst behaviour of the Tories there.

At 11:35 am , Blogger Matt Sellwood said...

>A history degree from Magdalen >College is not, in fact, good >experience for designing and >ensuring the implementation of a >multi billion pound complex IT >project of the kind which will be >needed to introduce school >vouchers.



At 8:36 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I happen to know that Jonty was a member of all the major political groups whilst at university purely for the social aspect. Therefore, it is simply incorrect to say if he wasn't a member of the Tory Reform Group he was an out and out Tory....he was no more "Conservative" at university than he was "Labour" or anything else.

At 11:36 am , Anonymous tim f said...

Nice try, anonymous. Are you claiming he was a member of Oxford University Labour Club too? I don't remember seeing his name on the membership list. Perhaps by "all the major political societies" Tories mean Oxford University Conservative Association the the debating Union?

At 11:45 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm no Tory!

At 12:42 am , Anonymous Tim said...

Peter Mandelson and John Birt were both at St Catz...


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