Tuesday, 1 May 2012

With friends like these...

 Correction - it's not only David Cameron and that weird little fecker, Michael Gove, who are now jumping to Jeremy Hunt's defence. Hunt also has the endorsement of that splendidly fogeyish eccentric old Etonian, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who condemned Ed Miliband's rush to judge Hunt with this wonderfully patrician interjection:

Only a socialist yahoo would make up his mind in 23 minutes.

I was sad to see the amusing spoof Rees-Mogg Twitter account closed down, but I needn't have worried - the real Rees-Mogg is becoming almost as entertaining.

On a slightly more serious note, the pairing of Gove and Rees-Mogg is a great example of how we Brits are conditioned to internalise class divisions. Without thinking, I automatically, and prejudicially, described Gove (educated at a state school, before winning a scholarship to the independent Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen) as a 'weird little fecker' whereas the silver-spoon-fed old Etonian Rees-Mogg got away with the almost complimentary 'eccentric'.  It just goes to show how even somebody on the left can absorb an almost unconscious bias in favour of the overclass.

After all, to be fair to Michael Gove, that scholarship proves that he actually worked hard and pulled himself up by his own bootstraps at some point in his life, as opposed to being too impeccably well-bred to do anything so irredeemably vulgar as working hard for his influential place in society. Yet it's easy to describe his oddball nature as 'weird' and just as easy to use the almost affectionate label 'eccentric' to descibe the oddities of an over-privileged, heiress-marrying toff who seems to have bumbled into the House of Commons after taking a wrong turning on his way to Bertie Wooster's Drones Club.

It's a strange, strained relationship we have with our great British eccentrics - under the laughter there's also deep anxiety about status and position - think back to the desperately, hilariously insecure snobbery of a Basil Fawlty, or the anxieties and conflicts behind Vivian Stanshall's comic alter ego, Sir Henry Rawlinson:

 It could be argued that Sir Henry was based in part upon his own father who came home from the war obsessed with mores acquired from mixing with the RAF Officer caste. Vivian had grown up in a working class environment in Walthamstow and later at Leigh-on-Sea, and he never resolved the conflict of life on the street with life at home and consequently never reconciled his relationship with his father.

I guess, "call me Dave" Cameron and his chums must be experiencing similar, but opposite, conflicts as they attempt to mimic the mores of ordinary folk - and wincing, every time Jacob Rees-Mogg lets the mask slip by opening his mouth.