Robert Nye famously observed that Raven possessed “the mind of a cad and the pen of an angel”, which is both a fine line in its own right and accurate. It is these two attributes which underpin my admiration for him, and endears him to me. Despite my socialist leanings, I have always had a sneaking respect for the upper-class cad if he (and it is of course always he) combined caddishness with wit and style.
Raven did. Alan Clarke did not, although I enjoyed his description of Lord Michael Haseltine as the kind of man “who had to buy his own furniture”. These days, of course, Haseltine is the grandest of grandees and his son, now living in his own estates in the middle of the proposed route of HS2, has no need to buy his own furniture, even though he can doubtless afford to.
It is, of course, this kind of attitude which has provoked John Major’s recent outburst about the class nature of the modern Conservative party. “In every single sphere of British influence, the upper echelons of power in 2013 are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class” he said.
He finds this truly shocking, not least because of his own background. But he cannot find it surprising. After the grouse-shooting first earl of Stockton, Harold Macmillan, and the 14th earl of Home, Alec Douglas-Home, the Tories flirted for a couple of decades with the likes of Heath, Thatcher and then Brixton-born Major, before reverting to public school type in the current manifestation.
As I write, we are living in a public school fiefdom.
The Prime Minister, the Mayor of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury are all Etonians. The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, went to Westminster School and the Chancellor, George Osborne, went to St Paul’s in London; but Osborne’s chief economics adviser, Rupert Harrison, is a former head boy at Eton. Cameron’s chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn, is an Etonian. The Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin is an Etonian. The Chief Whip, George Young, is an Etonian.
Equally importantly, many of the journalists who claim to monitor and bring to book these politicians are also Etonians: James Landale of the BBC, for example, Tom Newton Dunn of the Sun, Patrick Hennessy of the Telegraph, and Roland Watson of the Times.
Major is clearly right. There is what has been termed a ‘chumocracy’ at work here. It is an educational apartheid and it brings to the top not those with wit and style or the pens of angels, but those who are merely cads. They have no big ideas. They have few convictions – well, not the sort I mean, anyway. And they have no political passions beyond power.
The contrast with Raven and a predecessor at King’s, Guy Burgess, cannot be more marked. Noel Annan, who taught both Raven and Burgess, wrote that "they were both scamps who by their example liberated their more timid contemporaries".
One yearns for that kind of example. (And it is, in passing, an aspect of Raven’s fellow classicist Boris Johnson which appeals to every class.)
As Raven pointed out, "Whereas the gentleman always seeks to deserve his position, the aristocrat, disdainful and insouciant, is quite happy just to exploit it."
More gentlemen, please.
Today from the everysmith vault: I have been listening to an old Mojo compilation entitled Dylan's Greenwich Village which includes John Lee Hooker, Dave van Ronk, Mimi & Richard Farina, Lightnin' Hopkins and - wonderfully - Allen Ginsberg reciting Auto Poesy to Nebraska.