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He has not yet been elected to the Commons, but Stephen Kinnock is already following the family tradition of being treated as a figure of fun. Guido Fawkes was early out of the traps with a mock-up announcement: “The Rt Hon Baron Kinnock of Bedwelty and Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead are delighted to announce that their son the Hon Stephen Kinnock has been appointed Labour prospective Parliamentary candidate for Aberavon.” Dominic Lawson took up the Red Prince theme as he mocked “Labour’s privileged dynasties.” Today’s Sun lists members of “Labour’s new political aristocracy” – Euan Blair (son of Tony), Will Straw (son of Jack), and David Prescott (son of John). It also cited Hillary Benn, son of the recently-departed Tony. This gives us an excuse to link to Mark Wallace’s piece on “Labour’s Posh Boys” and re-publish Carla Millar’s illustration above.
These are all different ways of making the point that the Conservative monopoly of the hereditary principle in the Commons is gradually being broken. The Soames and Maude dynasties are hanging on. But the Hoggs and Heathcoat-Amorys have gone, and now the Kinnocks are about to join the Benns on the other row of green benches.
This displacement makes a bigger point about a role reversal of our two main parties. When Anthony Sampson published his Anatomy of Britain 50 or so years ago, there was a single Establishment (a word and idea he popularised) and it was a conservative one – sometimes with a capital C. The armed forces, the Lords, the judiciary, and the police all leaned to the political Right. The teaching profession had not yet been trade unionised (that came in the 1970s). The universities were likely to be represented by Conservative MPs. (The Party hung on to the Cambridge seat until 1992 and the Oxford one until 1997.) The progress of Stephen Kinnock is a reminder of how much has changed. The Tory majority in the Lords has gone. The judiciary, armed with judicial review powers and human rights laws, has swung left. The Scarman and Macpherson reports were followed by a generation of PC PCs – or Chief Constables, anyway. And as for the teaching unions…
Not so long ago, the Militant Tendency aimed to seize “the commanding heights of the economy”. It may have failed, but Labour’s triumph in seizing those elsewhere is impressive. The arts swung Left long ago. So has the quangocracy. Francis Maude is leading a fightback, but 77 per cent of those appointed declaring a political affiliation were Labour – only two years ago, two years into coalition.
This shift is not all bad news for the Conservatives. The more the nature of the Establishment has changed (if it is accurate to speak of a single establishment at all), the more anti-establishment popular culture has become, as a succession of British institutions have been dragged through the mire – the banks, the Commons, the media, the police. So there is traction in being the anti-establishment party, an impression which Margaret Thatcher briefly projected during the 1980s. Tories that take on vested interests will be more popular than those that don’t. And there are plenty in business as well as elsewhere: big companies that squeeze smaller ones out of the markets; monopolies that exploit their position to rig prices; powerful interests that lobby government to take decisions that aren’t in consumers’ interests. The more rigorously Conservatives apply such a critique, the more likely it is to be successful.
Such an approach would be the most effective rebuttal of Labour’s chutzpah claim that their opponents are the elite. The re-emergence of David Cameron’s commitment to cut inheritance tax for the many who can’t afford ingenious accountants, rather than the few who can, is certainly be part of it. There is irony in Labour’s assault on the Etonian presence in and around Downing Street. The weaker the Tory presence in the Establishment has become, the more frequent attacks on it are.
No wonder Labour got itself into such a lather when Michael Gove didn’t re-appoint Sally Morgan as Chairman of Osfted. (Yes, not sacked: simply not re-appointed.) They raged with the sense of entitlement that marks the true Establishment – of those robbed, as they see it, of what is theirs by right. Perhaps Baroness Ashton is the wave of the future: the quangocrat promoted from post to post – and eventually to the biggest quango of all, the EU – without the tiresome inconvenience of ever putting herself before the electorate. Certainly, today’s Labour Establishment has all the assurance of those peers in Iolanthe – the confidence, the connections, the social capital, the advantages bestowed by accident of birth. Perhaps Baroness Ashton and Lord Prescott – and Stephen Kinnock and Hillary Benn – can star in an updated production. Bow, bow, ye lower middle classes! Bow, bow, ye tradesmen, bow, ye masses! Blow the trumpets, bang the brasses! Tantantara! Tzing! Boom!