Thursday, 17 December 2009
A shocking reversal of allegiance.
It is not often that I am shocked. Many believe that if one is so fortunate as to be comfortably provided for in this life, then one has no idea of adversity, cruelty or horror: but it is not so – not necessarily. Behind the dignity and reticence of the conduct of a lady may lie the most surprising tapestry of experience. I think I can say I have seen life, and had plentiful opportunity to observe human nature in considerable variety. I am not easily shocked.
At first when Ponty chatted about being a Buller man, the reference meant nothing to me. I initially assumed he was referring to his enthusiasm for Bull Terriers: a noble breed of dog unfortunately tainted by association with some aggressive and irresponsible owners. Later when Ponty mentioned in passing being part of ‘Bullingdon blinds’, I had hopes that he might have made investment in a worthwhile and steady business venture – he is a sensitive soul beneath a rather arresting exterior, and I thought that home décor might prove soothing and balancing to his spirit, but it turned out that his reference was to something else entirely.
Even when I had found out what the Bullingdon Club is, it was not Ponty’s membership of it that shocked me. A very exclusive dining club, known, I discover, for destructive binges – membership by invitation only. It goes without saying that its membership is restricted to the very wealthy, as new members are initiated by having their rooms ‘trashed’. The club holds an annual dinner, with occasional smaller dinners to welcome new members. Because they know they will not be welcome in any restaurant, the booking is made under an assumed name: at the conclusion of the dinner, either designedly or simply because the members are drunk, the young men attending the dinner set about damaging and breaking the tableware and furniture, breaking windows – generally destroying their dining environment. Because of their wealth, the members pride themselves on paying for the damage, often settling in cash on the night (so I am told). Even so, they are not welcome guests in any establishment.
I cannot pretend to be astonished to find that Ponty should be a member of such a club. In my eyes, Ponty will always be the wide-eyed little boy, full of eagerness and wonder, that once he was: but I recognize that in the world’s eyes he has travelled a long journey from where he started out. It is a prestigious club, a great honour to be invited to membership, so I have heard – and Ponty would find this seductive. He is naïve in some ways, though he pretends to sophistication.
I was not even shocked to discover that the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson; our Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne; and our leader of the Conservative party and would-be Prime Minister, David Cameron, all were members of the Bullingdon Club. I was not shocked by the revelations concerning MPs expenses, and I am not shocked by this. What did people think human nature was like? What did they imagine went on when people were trusted and left on their own to tell the truth? How could anybody seriously be so simple-minded as to imagine that MPs were without exception upright, honest souls, beavering away industriously for the good of the nation, beacons of exemplary frugality, never opportunistic, sleazy or corrupt? I am disappointed to learn that George Osborne, Boris Johnson and David Cameron all coveted membership of a group whose sole purpose was destruction, debauchery, depravity, decadence and the distasteful flaunting of excessive wealth – but not shocked. They are all, underneath, a little like my Ponty; cheerful, well-meaning, not as bright as one might have hoped, wearing their morality like a Sunday suit to please the electorate – too tight in the collar, too starched and too slender-cut: a relief to remove at the first opportunity, in favour or something far looser, dirtier and more comfortable. I understand.
No. What has shocked me is this. My father, his father, and his father before him have all been staunch members of the Conservative party. In my family, to vote Conservative meant to vote for freedom, for the right to make what one could of one’s own life with one’s own money and one’s own effort: to protect and order one’s own family and land according to one’s own vision and standards. To rely on no-one, answer to no-one, and shake free of all these itching, biting, carping, infuriating entangling rules and regulations so beloved of the Labour party. To me, Gordon Brown’s proud announcement that the interference of Ofsted is to extend its suffocating tentacles even into the lives of the under-twos is not welcome. Is no baby to have a childhood, freedom to play, to explore, and simply dream? Is no teenager to be left with time to waste – to compose poetry and music, to play guitar and build tree-houses and camp in the woods, to rage against the system and conduct terribly dangerous scientific experiments, and sound-proof the barn with egg-boxes for a home-made recording studio? Are they all to be monitored and examined and driven at targets every second of every day? Whence will come our inventors, our explorers, our musicians, our playwrights and poets and philosophers once the Labour party has finished forcing every child into a health-and-safety shaped politically correct clone of a dreary respectable middle-management bureaucrat who feels free to sneer at any white middle-class Christian but is appalled at the notion of inadvertently distressing a militant Muslim?
What has shocked me, finally, after all these years, after so weighty and proud a tradition, even though I promised to vote for darling Ponty (I was so proud when I found he was to be an MP) – is that I have come reluctantly to the conclusion that, if it is true that David Cameron, George Osborne, and Boris Johnson were members of the Bullingdon Club; then, nanny state or not, Gordon Brown has my vote from now on.