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Jealous petulant snipery and the Labour leadership

June 10, 2010 6 comments

There seems to be a fair amount of grumpiness and sarcasm going on around the Labour party leadership election.

Much of this is for sensible reasons (broadly “the only one of the candidates who isn’t a dull clone has no experience of managing anything ever, and David Miliband is a war criminal”).

However, there’s also a fair amount that’s come for the stupidest reason possible: “they all went to Oxbridge, so they aren’t representative”.

If you replace “Oxbridge” with “public school”, and “the Labour party” with “the Tory party”, this is definitely a fair point: you get to public school solely by having relatives who have large quantities of disposable cash, and therefore anyone who has been to public school has had at the very least an upper-middle-class upbringing [*].

For reasons to do both with a lack of state-school applications and variations in actual acceptance rates, Oxbridge still has a private school bias in its admissions. So it’s fair to say that a randomly picked Oxbridge person is probably from a privileged background, and is not particularly likely to be a good person to represent the working class.

But that isn’t what we’re being faced with here.

We know that Diane Abbott’s parents were working-class immigrants, and that she grew up as a black working-class girl in 1950s and 1960s London. We know that Andy Burnham’s parents were working-class Scousers, and that (while he doubtless faced less adversity than Abbott while growing up) he also had a working-class upbringing in 1970s and 1980s Warrington.

In other words, we know that two of the candidates for the Labour leadership are people who come from unequivocally working-class families and areas, and who – despite the fact that Oxbridge admissions tilt towards the middle- and upper-middle-classes – were good enough to beat the bias in the system and get in anyway.

Isn’t the correct response to that fact “it’s fantastic that two of the candidates for the Labour leadership are people who are that academically able and motivated whilst at the same time having a very strong understanding of what growing up without a silver spoon is like – this is exactly what we want from our political leaders”, rather than “meh, Oxbridge wankers, unrepresentative, blah blah”?

Well, unless you’re a jealous petulant inverse snob, that is.

[*] before we get any bleeding heart middle-class sob stories, yes, many parents spend a huge proportion of their disposable incomes on school fees and go without holidays, ponies, etc – but in order to for their disposable income to cover a couple of kids’ school fees they still need to be reliably making a lot more than the median wage, which makes them upper-middle-class.