Dismissing David Cameron and his gang as “toffs” is feeble, but I’ve noticed a few commentators refining that line lately. The Spectator blog points at Trevor Kavanagh, Political Editor of The Sun—there’s a job—claiming that the workrate of the Cameroonies compares unfavourably with that of either the Blairites or Brownites (as recounted by Alastair Campbell), and that the relative laziness of the current top Tories will be their downfall at the next General Election. Left-leaning gossip-monger Recess Monkey quotes John Redwood saying of the new Chancellor of the Exchequer:
“He’s got something of the scholarship boy about him.”
Over at Prospect‘s blog, William Skidelsky asks “David Cameron: intellectual?” (in the same way the magazine’s latest cover implied of Gordon Brown) and identifies the strain of snobbery underlying Redwood’s remark:
Bruce Anderson claimed that David Cameron, too, is an intellectual. “He has read and thought a great deal about politics and about the human condition,” Anderson writes. Other evidence for the proposition? “It must be remembered that Mr Cameron got a first at Oxford without being a slave to his books.”
Reading between the lines, we can see a contrast being implied between two intellectual types: on the one hand the bookish, “clunking” and “solipsistic” son of the manse; on the other the well-bred “son of the old rectory” who, in the best traditions of English upper-class effortlessness, breezed through Oxford, barely troubling to read a book, and still emerged with a first.
I love the idea that, rather than being a basic requirement of completing a degree, having “read and thought a great deal” about some area of study makes you an intellectual. I should have tried that in lab meetings: “Yes, this experiment does seem to show that my model is faulty, but I have read and thought a great deal about the matter.” Cue the pitying laughter of a room full of geeks.
Perhaps that’s why Prospect readers voted Noam Chomsky “the World’s leading public intellectual”: he might have been wrong and deceitful, but, over the course of his career, other teachers at MIT had awarded him an unprecedented 27 gold stars for book-learning.