Wednesday, September 23, 2015
#PigGate, Misunderstanding About British Elite
I have now read two articles seeking to explain #PigGate in terms of the British Establishment punishing British Prime Minister, David Cameron, both of which essays totally misunderstand what truly concerns the so-called British elite, and the way it works.
First, let's get it quite clear, David Cameron is at the very heart of British elitism. Long established pedigree. Related to royalty. Banking. Eton. Oxford. Empire. And it is this very foundation which militates against the rationale presented by authors who obviously have never actually been anywhere near anything resembling a gathering of this establishment elite.
By the stages. The British establishment in particular is a moving feast. It survives because it adapts. It survives not because it demands loyalty by the imposition of embarrassing initiation rituals. It continues to run all that is important because those who belong and wish to belong voluntarily adhere to its exclusivity.
For sure, there are the schools which train (Britain's venerable and sometimes ancient network of boarding schools), colleges which refine (Oxford and Cambridge), clubs which distinguish (those Grecian palaces which line the finer streets near the most exclusive club of all, Parliament). But even that is but trapping.
As is title, land, postal address, dress code and social class relating to one's birth. The single driving imperative of the British elite is that there is a small group of self-appointed snobs who believe that they are the best, that they should rule. By whatever means is relevant to the day. Again, adapting to the circumstances of the moment.
If we are a nation governed by royalty, then as courtiers. And study history. Some of the most influential courtiers were not of noble birth. This is the genius of the British elite. It is nowhere near as static as outsiders perceive. It refreshes itself by absorbing the best of the best of each new generation.
And not always the best. Merely the most popular. Or the most prevalent. Charles II created an entire network of aristocracy based on the progeny of his coupling with comely wenches from the East End of London.
The British establishment of each generation surveys. Recognizes. Chooses. Flatters. Seduces. Absorbs. And bends new initiates to its will. Again, not through some complex hazing ritual. But by a subtle process of those on the inside accepting that the new entrant voluntarily understands the attitudes, the airs, the graces, the noblesse oblige of those on the inside.
And here's the rub. If you have not a clue what I'm talking about. The subtleties of language, bearing, demeanour necessary for membership, then you're not one of them. It's as simple as that. And if you're not one of them, you seek to rationalize your exclusion, your misunderstanding in terms of visible rituals involving the heads of dead pigs.
Let's talk examples. Mick Jagger. Now Sir Mick. Watches cricket with a former Prime Minister. Only bloke allowed to wear jeans in the lobby of hotel of choice for Britain's elite - Brown's. Why Mick? Because the Empire is gone. Last of it that was worth anything was 'given away' in the Sixties. At which point the elite began to rule the world, not through government, but through culture. Enter Sir Mick, Sir Paul and Sir Elton.
Forget their genesis. They know enough about the manners and mores of the British upper class to know the codes to which to adhere. And this is the part it is truly difficult for outsiders to grasp. This elite is not naturally venal. Look, for sure, its young do daft things. So do the young of all classes. For sure, they behave horribly to those who are not a part of them. As does any gang in South Central. Any gathering of mean girls in the lowliest neighborhood of any large city worldwide. It ain't about class; it's about exclusivity. Self-appointed, self-generating separateness.
But. It only succeeds if it observes, changes, and wields influence through nudge. Again, for sure, there are those who want power and are less than selfless in manipulation. But, the British establishment wouldn't survive and attract if it was driven solely by selfish ambition. The British elite believes in charity and public service every bit as much as any member of the Kennedy clan.
It is the nature of the courtship which defines the habits of the British establishment in each generation. So, back to Jagger, and now throw in Beckham (both of them). The latter could not be more egalitarian. Yet. They have become favorites of the Queen. Why? Because they are favorites of the people.
And how does the courtship unfold? The Beckhams are stroked. The accent of the ruling classes bends to the flat vowels of South London. The Beckhams are honored. The Queen sends her best wishes before the World Cup. The Beckhams learn courtesy, deference, polish and noblesse. Royalty delights in episodes of the EastEnders.
Authors of the articles, such as the two I have read, prefer dark initiation rituals, deep in the bowels of the Tower of London. The reality is nudge, and suggestion, hint and giggle.
Which doesn't make the existence of this elite any less obnoxious, undemocratic and potentially insidious. But it seeks to debunk the misunderstanding currently being generated.
Ok. So, what does this have to do with Ashcroft and Cameron? It isn't that Ashcroft was an outsider. Belize-born. Of British parents. Not the usual educative path. Made his money brutally. None of this would exclude him. Provided he played the game. And the game is one of studied indifference. Not unlike the game-playing the Cardinals go through when electing a Pope. It is generally accepted that the successful Papal candidate is the one who does the least (visibly) to seek the position.
All those who have tried to buy their way into the tight circles of the British elite have failed, precisely because they have tried to buy their way in. Think Rowland. Fayed. Maxwell. And now Ashcroft.
If they had persevered. Quietly. Doing good works. Flattering. But without a trace of self-consciousness. They would have been seduced. But they hammered with demands. Trying to leverage citizenship, title and Cabinet position.
This appalls the truly British elite. And appalling is the ultimate grounds for rejection. Cameron did not appall because of a pig's head. Youthful indiscretion, don't you now? Ashcroft appalled because he was rude. Demanding. Mean. Pretentious. Self-aggrandizing. He had no understanding that the essence of British elitism is a self-aware gentility, borne of the absolute certainty that the world revolves around you, so certain that it needs no expression nor overbearing demonstration. It matters not that you are on the front page of every GQ. If it is accompanied by a gentle self-effacement, then you are a gent. And you are one of us.
Indeed, you are close to receiving a passing grade in this introductory class to British elitism if you 'get' that David Beckham is 'one of us.' Victoria never will be. And she is only 'accepted,' because David has sufficient establishment largesse to spare. Coat-tails, don't you know?
Ashcroft is not and never will be a member of the British elite. He is rough. He is parvenu. He grates. He does not seamlessly adapt. He smarms with greasy unctuousness. He now knows this. After decades of trying too hard. He now knows that he will never be accepted.
Now, we can argue whether the final straw was not being given a Cabinet position by classic insider Dave. Or whether Ashcroft felt slighted because the new insider boys on the block were excluding the Thatcher outsiders from the goodies flowing from the huge arms kickbacks associated with Britain's massive arms industry.
Doesn't matter. Although it helps sales of my book to promote the latter. The essential point is that what underpins Ashcroft's huge investment in a book seeking to trash the current Prime Minister is not exclusion from position or profit, but anger at being rejected by a club he so desperately wanted to join.
And this is where so many of those pretending authoritatively to write about Ashcroft's reason for his book totally miss the point. Ashcroft is not punishing Dave on behalf of the establishment. He is punishing the establishment itself. The establishment love Dave. Don't care a toss what he did in his youth. Dave hasn't betrayed them. Ashcroft has.
I suspect that Ashcroft will leave the shores of Great Britain some time in the next 18 months. To return either to Belize or to Miami. Where money and power do still buy attention. I suspect his book serves no purpose other than as one last almighty great bird flip at the British establishment. In the almost certain knowledge that it will seal Ashcroft's exclusion from insidership.
Not because of any deadly revelation. And this is where Ashcroft betrays his continuing misunderstanding of the nature of the British elite. And, indeed, its very acceptance by so many ordinary Brits (the same ones who devour Downton Abbey). The elite and their admirers don't give a toss about pigs. Their disdain is reserved for the oaf who would seek advancement by using the knowledge to blackmail or to punish. So not done, old boy.
And therein lies a final irony. Perhaps, an unwitting irony. Deep in his heart, I think Ashcroft knows that this final act is outre. That it defines him. And why he will always be 'one of them.' I suspect that, in some deep, dark corner of his repressed inferiority complex, Ashcroft knows what it takes to be British establishment. And he has chosen to prefer an elitism based on the exercise of raw power, rather than one requiring gentle submission to a more genteel, while no less omnipresent and overarching, authority.
And that same misunderstanding continues to be betrayed by some who write about it. Which is where I began ...