Who makes up our ruling elite?

Conspiracy theorists are always on the lookout for some secret cabals who rule the world: it may be the Jews, the Masons, the Judaeo-Masons, Opus Dei, the Mafia, the military-industrial complex, banks – or any combination thereof. The list of exciting possibilities is endless.

Yet history shows that the world (or rather its constituent elements) is hardly ever run by secret or cabalistic groups. Ruling elites usually have no need for secrecy: they proudly operate out in the open.

That doesn’t mean we can identify them easily without taking a close look or comparing one against another. And even then we need a few telltale signs to help us along.

I’d suggest that the surest telltale sign of a ruling elite is its ability to place itself above the law, or at least the rules, generally governing the hoi-polloi world.

One such rule proscribes nepotism in most walks of life. In many Western outfits, both private and public, nepotism – hiring and promoting close relations, or encouraging others to do so – isn’t just discouraged but prohibited.

I remember working at NASA in my younger days, when two rather lowly employees announced their engagement. They were quietly summoned to their manager’s office and given the choice of which one of them should be sacked.

In my subsequent career with various companies on two continents, I had the chance to observe similar situations, with no choice or quarter given: both the man and the woman would be fired if they got married or sometimes even if they had an affair. Most companies I’ve known, especially if publicly owned, specify an anti-nepotism clause in their corporate policy.

(Obviously such clauses don’t extend to the owners and top management: on a reduced scale such mini-elites are also above the rules covering everyone else.)

Now it’s my contention that Britain is more or less run by an elite made up of journalists and politicians: those who manipulate public opinion and those who stand to benefit from it.

The membership in this elite seems to be fluid to the point of being interchangeable: journalists effortlessly become politicians (William Rees-Mogg, Nigel Lawson, Johnson, Gove,) and vice versa (Parris). This is reminiscent of the Soviet nomenklatura, with, say, a deputy minister of fisheries drifting on to become a magazine editor, then an ambassador, then chairman of the football association. 

Contrary to the current preoccupation with the educational backgrounds of our politicians, matriculation at a particular school doesn’t seem to play a dominant role, though it may play some. But notice the ease with which members of our journo-political elite flout the convention against nepotism.

Yesterday’s Mail ran a good knockabout piece about The Red Princes, leftwing politicians brought together not only by ideological but also by family ties: the Kinnocks, the Benns, the Milibands, Harman/Dromey, Hames/Swindon, Balls/Cooper and so forth.

To be fair, the article acknowledged that such gauche (or is it sinister?) practices aren’t the exclusive prerogative of the political Left. The paper cited Douglas Hurd’s son Nick, currently a Tory minister; John Gummer’s son Ben, currently an MP; Lord Rees-Mogg’s son Jacob, ditto. And even Dave Cameron, who boasts MPs in his family tree, got a mention.

The words ‘log’, ‘eye’ and ‘mote’ spring to mind, especially if we focus on Jacob Rees-Mogg, whose father was mainly known as a journalist, not just a former Tory minister. For the other element of the ruling coalition, journalism, is riddled with nepotism as much as the political world.

I shan’t bore you with a long list of siblings, spouses or parents and children appearing regularly in our mainstream media. Suffice it to mention the Dimbleby brothers, the nuptial duos of Muir/Macintyre, Purves/Heiney, Wagner/Gilbert, Vine/Grove and Moran/Paphides, the whole dynasties of the Waughs, Mounts, Johnsons, Lawsons, Rifkinds and so on ad infinitum.

The last four names also support my earlier point about the fluid demarcation between politics and journalism, with the great dynasties of the Mounts, Johnsons, Lawsons and Rifkinds adorning both parts of the ruling elite.

Anticipating, and trying to preempt, such jaundiced comments clearly driven by hunger for sour grapes, Dominic Lawson published a piece in the same issue decrying nepotism in politics but disclaiming any in his own family.

Yes, he acknowledged, his father was a Tory minister when Dominic himself embarked on a career in journalism. But that put Dominic at a disadvantage because his first job was with the BBC, an organisation not known for Tory sympathies.

One can compliment Mr Lawson’s considerable mental agility, while rebuking him for slight disingenuousness.

After all, after his short BBC stint as researcher, he spent most of his journalistic career proper at Tory papers, such as The Spectator, The Sunday Telegraph, The Sunday Times, The Times and The Mail. In that rarified world his father Nigel, himself former Telegraph editor, was no hindrance. And Dominic’s voluptuous sister Nigella had also worked at The Spectator and The Sunday Times before she laid a claim to domestic divinity.

I’m not suggesting that we should – or, more to the point, could – do something about this. Blood thicker than water and all that, you know the clichés as well as I do.

All I’m saying is that such rather tawdry nepotism can act as a guide for someone anxious to identify our wire-pullers. Look at the rules, then look above them – that’s where you’ll find the true elite.

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