Tuesday, April 12, 2011

In praise of Oxford

Yesterday, in a moment of extemporised electioneering among the masses, the Prime Minister accused Oxford University of operating an essentially racist admissions policy. It was ‘disgraceful’, he said, ‘that only one black person went to Oxford last year’.

The University has responded, pointing out that the figure quoted refers to British undergraduates of black Caribbean origin starting courses in 2009/10. In fact, Oxford admitted 41 UK undergraduates with black backgrounds during that year, and a very respectable 22 per cent of Oxford’s total student population came from ethnic minority backgrounds. When this is placed alongside the 2001 census figures, which established that 7.9 per cent of the population are of non-white ethnicity, there would appear to be a considerable over-representation BME candidates.

But that is all froth and bubble.

If the measure of a university can be gauged by the number of prime ministers it produces, Oxford stands pre-eminent. David Cameron was its 26th, as against the mere 14 produced by Cambridge. In fact, Oxford could be said to have produced 27 prime ministers if one includes William Pulteney, 1st Earl of Bath (Christ Church, 1700), conventionally discounted because he held office for just two days. And it is not only British prime ministers, but some 30-or-so other world leaders graduated from Oxford, so it must be doing something right.

Here is not the place to conjecture on the reasons: the point is that of 54 serving prime ministers, beginning with Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745), 41 went to Oxbridge, 10 attended no university at all and three went to other universities (Earl Russell and Gordon Brown to Edinburgh; Neville Chamberlain to Birmingham). His Grace is, of course, a Cambridge man, and he finds it interesting that Oxonian prime ministers outnumber Cantabrian ones by such a large margin. Indeed, it is even more interesting that over 100 MPs from the 2010 General Election were Oxford graduates, while around 50 were Cambridge (give or take, as some did not list their education and a few went to both). Of even greater interest is that three of candidates for the Labour leadership last year were also Oxonians, and they all read PPE.

Perhaps, like freemasonry, Oxford opens secret doors and enables one to climb the greasy pole with a deft handshake. Or is it simply that the University is closer to Eton College and London, and so geographically far more convenient for the rich and powerful to send their sons? Perhaps it is the Union, the rehearsal stage for Parliament, which hones and equips aspiring politicians with the necessary skills for high office. It has included Gladstone, Salisbury, Asquith, Macmillan and Heath as its presidents: indeed, from the present Cabinet, William Hague and Alan Duncan are both ex-Union presidents.

Yet the list of prime ministers who eschewed the Union is far greater than those who embraced it: Rosebery, Attlee, Eden, Home, Blair and Cameron all avoided the club, and Thatcher was barred by gender. She became instead president of the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA), which has also produced quite a few Cabinet members over the years.

It can’t be an Oxford ‘first’ that lights the path to No10, because Cameron is fairly unique in that respect (only Gladstone, Peel and Wilson took a first: Heath, Thatcher and Blair all earned second-class degrees). Perhaps it is the University’s political culture, or its rigours in law, history and the classics. Perhaps it is its tutorial system, which encourages debate and demands mini-speeches of mental dexterity. Whatever it is, there is little that is ‘disgraceful’ about this pre-eminent seat of learning. And the moment it is obliged by statute to select students by ethnic quota, it will be time to privatise.

At least until it can produce its 28th prime minister who might understand what the University is about.


Blogger JohnofEnfield said...

I find "ethnicity" as impossible for the average person to define.

I wrote "No idea" on my census return. How CAN we know our antecedents even if we go in for the fashionable game of listing our ancestors?

The police allow you to state your subjective view of what your ethnicity is. How valuable is this in arriving at a useful view of the make up of our society?

Perhaps the safest bet is to write "Viking".

12 April 2011 at 10:48  
Anonymous Ektherio said...

Ahh, your Grace, but as you might well know yourself - if you are/were a Cambridge man - that they have the same systems in place. Cambridge has a Union, a conservative association, a system of tutorials (a.k.a supervisions). I suspect it's a matter that those politically minded tend to go there because it leads more favourably into politics, because more politically minded people go there - and so on and so on ad infinitum.

12 April 2011 at 10:50  
Blogger Archbishop Cranmer said...

Mr/Miss/Mrs/Ms Ektherio,

His Grace is fully aware that those are in place at Cambridge. He was just musing aloud. It can't all be down to geography.

12 April 2011 at 10:53  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How does Cameron keep messing up?

He gets it spot on regarding street parties for the wedding and ignoring local authority rules.

Then he makes a stupid comment about Oxford.

12 April 2011 at 11:09  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am loath to defend Cameron - I don't like him , I don't like his politics - but that ingrained British sense of fair play prompts me ponder :
Was the PM laying the blame for this "disgrace" at the door of Oxford University ? Or , rather , at British society as a whole ?
He was,after all,quoted as saying "WE have got to do better than that."
I took that to mean "we British", not "we Oxford Uni insiders".

Marcus Foxall

12 April 2011 at 11:40  
Anonymous Gordo said...

Does Dave want Oxford to admit fewer clever East Asians then? They are overrepresented therefore that would be equitable.

Think he should explain himself.

Perhaps when he was there he wished there were more big black men.

12 April 2011 at 12:02  
Anonymous Charlie said...

'Fairly unique'? Oh dear!

12 April 2011 at 12:10  
Anonymous MrJ said...

"Of even greater interest is that three of [the] candidates for the Labour leadership last year were also Oxonians, and they all read PPE." Ah, Cranmer may be on to something here. Perhaps what was being taught under the name of Politics, Philosophy and Economics in those days was not as well suited to the art of government as it may once have been.

The benefit of education at eminent places such as Eton and Oxford or Cambridge often used to be mentioned. Has Mr Cameron "benefited" from his years at Eton and Oxford?

Another Old Etonian wrote about his experience in a book he called "Enemies of Promise" (Cyril Connolly). One way or another that title could be applied to Mr Cameron. First class degree or not, the contrast with Pitt (Cambridge, of course) and some others could hardly be sadder.

Mr Cameron's degree was for satisfying the examiners in "Politics, Philosophy and Economics" in the Final Honours School, but there is no sign that he excels in any of those subjects. He could be said to be a poor advertisement for the places of his education. Perhaps the Examiners were mistaken.

..."time to privatise": then Cranmer could have some more explaining to do about charters, statutes and the Privy Council, ecclesiastical foundations and Visitations, Regius Professors and the rest.

Mr Cameron and those about him seem to have even less interest in such matters of principle and detail than Mr Blair (remember the shambles about the Lord Chancellor?).

Just musing.

12 April 2011 at 12:31  
Anonymous bluedog said...

Your Grace

The central issue is becoming the judgement of David Cameron.

First the blunder in Pakistan, now the stumble in Oxford. Dave is starting to look as though he doesn't understand the values and beliefs of his core constituency.

Dave's exemplar Tony Blair was skilled in amateur theatricals and earned a living as a barrister before taking on the greater role of politician. Cameron's own core-competency is PR, a trade not unlike being an attorney. Both act as advocates for a client whose cause they may not really believe. So what does Cameron himself believe? Its hard to say. He certainly seems to missing the skills of his recently departed media adviser. One could even say he is starting to show the same disconnect from the rank and file that Edward Heath used to show when PM. A winter of discontent as the cuts bite could be fatal.

Your communicant predicts that another gaffe by Dave of this type will cause insurrection in the parliamentary Conservative Party.

12 April 2011 at 12:32  
Blogger Lakester91 said...

Your Grace,

Oxford tends to specialise in humanities whereas Cambridge tends more toward natural sciences. A friend who went to Oxford to study chemistry told me that the facilities were awful and the sense of competition extended toward hoarding of the few pieces of equipment available and rarely helping one another revise or work.

It is no surprise that Cambridge does not produce as many prime ministers, as natural science degrees don't immediately tend to lead to politics.

12 April 2011 at 12:33  
Anonymous Oswin said...

Amateurs, fools and bunglers!

As a former alumni of old Brownose, Cameron must surely have realised, had he allowed himself but a moments thought, that Oxford positively bulged with all manner of 'ethnicity' ... simply by opening his eyes would have revealed the bleedin' obvious!

Everyone can make a mistake, we all drop the occasional clanger, but we aren't all in the position of bombing the bejaysus out of Libya (or whatever/wherever) and deciding such issues as our pro-nuclear powered future.

His Grace, as an old Cambridge man, and thus a gentleman, generously calls Cameron's gaff ''extemporised electioneering'' whereas most, especially those emanating from the depths of Scumbag College, Wapping, would call it 'talking Sh*te'! (and/or orifices & contents, thereof).

Beyond the-foot-in-mouth however, lies an adjunct to His Grace's wider tone: the too ready ASSUMPTION that blacks, ethnic et als, and the chav-spawn of 'BogStandard High School' should be elevated by decree alone. 'Social engineering' is NOT education. Whereas 'education' is, of its self, a major component of social engineering.

One wonders at society had Grammar Schools prevailed; but that's another can of worms altogether...

12 April 2011 at 12:46  
Anonymous David said...

"... and he finds it interesting that Oxonian prime ministers outnumber Cantabrian ones by such a large margin."

You need a second rate mind to become a politician.

12 April 2011 at 13:06  
Anonymous Paul said...

Cambridge all the way, buy Oxford is alright...

12 April 2011 at 13:16  
Anonymous Hospitable Scots Bachelor said...

Heaven preserve us from the patronising folly of positive discrimination!!!!!!!!!!

12 April 2011 at 13:37  
Blogger The Heresiarch said...

"Perhaps, like freemasonry, Oxford opens secret doors and enables one to climb the greasy pole with a deft handshake."

That would be nice. It certainly helps you get onto the Orwell Prize longlist ;)

But how does one climb a greasy pole with a handshake? Your Grace's metaphors are somewhat miscegenated today, I fear.

12 April 2011 at 13:52  
Blogger English Viking said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12 April 2011 at 13:59  
Blogger Archbishop Cranmer said...

Mr Heresiarch,

His Grace wondered about that metaphor as he was writing, but decided to leave it as the image is as not so much miscegenated as muddled and dashed difficult, rather like the art of climbing the greasy pole.

And as for Oxford smoothing your way to the Orwell Prize longlist, well, His Grace does have *some* association with the place...

12 April 2011 at 14:05  
Blogger English Viking said...

You're kidding me?

I'd be grateful if you make it clear that you have removed a post of mine, because you find the truth unpalatable, and not because it is incorrect.

Please note I used the word 'average'.


12 April 2011 at 14:20  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace

What black boys need is an education combined with strict discipline that cannot be obtained in the state sector.

Free schools are part of the answer. Repealing the Human Rights Act 1998 with a British Bill of Rights within which 90% of the rights tell the British people what the state cannot do is an answer.

In short, the Socialist device of a ‘racial discount’ has proved disastrous.

12 April 2011 at 15:43  
Blogger Anabaptist said...

Cameron's fouled up yet again. Is there no bottom to that man's talent for ineptitude?

12 April 2011 at 15:55  
Blogger Bred in the bone said...

Ethnic minorities and Prime Minister, what an excellent track record.

Only a matter of time before Oxford manages to combine the two.

I put my faith in the Word

Its not spelling lessons we need but lessons in how to break their spell.

12 April 2011 at 16:02  
Anonymous Voyager said...

among the masses I do not consider Taylor's of Harrogate tea and coffee merchants owned by Bettys of Harrogate to be . among the masses but then again I am not an Etonian.

As for Neville Chamberlain he did NOT go to University but to an Institute of Metallurgy in Birmingham where his family had a business Nettlefolds now the "N" in GKN Plc.

I wonder where Lord Patten, Chancellor of Oxford and Newcastle Universities, and Chairman of the BBC Trust is when the Prime Minister has another mental aberration ? Perhaps Cameron should be accompanied by doctors during his outings ?

12 April 2011 at 16:08  
Anonymous Voyager said...

"... and he finds it interesting that Oxonian prime ministers outnumber Cantabrian ones by such a large margin."

I wonder how many of them went to Eton ?


As for Cambridge, it was not as Royalist as Oxford so the tendency for the King to favour a First Minister from a left-leaning university might be lesser.

Cambridge did however provide a Lord Protector of England after 1649

12 April 2011 at 16:12  
Anonymous Oswin said...


That would be a witch-doctor then eh?

12 April 2011 at 16:13  
Anonymous Voyager said...

they all read PPE

OH Mr J, if only you knew the syllabus of Modern Greats. There are more options in this degree course than you might imagine with Politics having most due to the '68ers.

I would think Cameron did Philosophy and Politics with no Economics after Prelims, makes for a much easier social degree. Nowadays 40% those doing PPE are NOT UK nationals.

12 April 2011 at 16:15  
Anonymous Oswin said...

Voyager @ 16:12:

Not forgetting a number of notable spies! (one has to say that otherwise Oxonians tend to sulk)

12 April 2011 at 16:17  
Blogger Archbishop Cranmer said...

Mr Voyager,

His Grace understands that the college attended by Neville Chamberlain morphed into the university. Certainly, he is frequently listed as an alumnus:


12 April 2011 at 16:18  
Anonymous Voyager said...

Cabinet, William Hague and Alan Duncan are both ex-Union presidents.

Poor Damian Green, when he was President of The Onion, Alan Duncan was lIbrarian I think......of course Benazir Bhutto was also President of The Onion and Prime Minister.......

12 April 2011 at 16:19  
Anonymous Bill Habergham said...

Your Grace,

As an ex-Oxford man myself I cannot enlighten you on the success of the University in producing politicians; slightly superior comminications into the West End and Central London may have something to do with it, but note that Cambridge has a superior track record in producing scientists, mathematicians philosophers and nobel laureates. Possibly the relative isolation of Cambridge has its benefits!

The real point, however, is why do we have such an obsession in this country in defining identity by race and skin colour (and non Christian religion)? Could we not start with the "content of ones character?

As I understand it, in the finely racially graded, educational attainment statistics, the top 2 groups are firstly, Chinese Girls followed closely by "poor" Chinese Girls, ie those on free school meals. So clearly no race or class bias there!

In last place come "poor" white boys. A few years ago it was "poor" black (afro caribbean) boys who held the wooden spoon. As this was clearly a "racist" outcome, this group was targeted with extra help and resources and the white boys found themselves in last place. The problem now is that if you insist on measuring educational success by race, you cannot do anything to help poor white boys as an ethnic or social group for fear of being accused of racisim. If you succeed in elevating them up the ladder in place of a non white minority group you are discriminating against that minority. And so we continue to bang our heads against this race obsessed wall-forever.

I wonder what the count of "poor" white english working class boys getting into Oxford was. Would it be greater than one?

Bill Habergham

12 April 2011 at 16:48  
Anonymous Dreadnaught said...

Is Cameron, our evidently gaff prone PM the British equivalent of Sarah Palin only worse?

Let's face it David Cameron is a product of the Conservative hot-house process where she if nothing else, is at least a self made parody of a politician. He apparently, was the best CCO could produce.

As Any nurseryman knows, that to thrive, his plants first have to be hardened off before bedding out. This, clearly Conservative head officedon't deem necessary to do and the result is clear to see - the man needs a compass to find which was is up. He is utterly cluless about world affairs, cultures or history - in short he is flying the fortunes of this country by the seat of his pants and losing altitude.

However I think its not all his fault. This for me says more about the standards posessed or expectations held, by the 'political elites' than anything else. Camerons only saving grace (if it is a grace worth saving) is that he presents a fine example that proves, that even with patronage, privilege and a private education there is no guarantee that it will produce anything better than that which is emerging from the dumbed down State education system.

Not the kind of equitable society most people have in mind or indeed we need to steer this pareticular Ship of State.

12 April 2011 at 16:52  
Anonymous Oswin said...

Bill Habergam:

re' 'Chinese girls' - on the contrary, the Chinese believe themselves superior to every other race, notwithstanding their socio-economic status. I fear you have bludgeoned your own argument at the onset. However, I take your general point.

12 April 2011 at 16:56  
Anonymous Voyager said...

ie those on free school meals

Every Child should get free school meals as they did Pre-Thatcher

12 April 2011 at 17:46  
Anonymous Oswin said...

Voyager: was it not milk; or was I cheated of mine ???

12 April 2011 at 19:04  
Anonymous bluedog said...

Mr Oswin, my own recollection is that the milk was either hot or frozen and that birds had first go having pecked through the foil caps. Urrgh!

12 April 2011 at 21:48  
Anonymous Voyager said...

School meals were provided as a charitable act from the mid-nineteenth century and expanded after the 1870 Education Act, amid rising concerns about undernourished children.[1] Manchester and Bradford began to provide school meals, and lobbied central government to legislate encouraging other local authorities to follow.[2] The Liberal government elected in 1906 introduced policies dealing with the poor health of Britain's children, with an urgency brought on by fears about the nation's capability for war and colonial conquests. These policies included the 1906 entitlement for local authorities to provide food for poor children. By 1945 1.6 million meals were being provided, 14% free and the rest charged at the cost of ingredients. [3]

School meal provision was made compulsory, by the 1944 Education Act, which made it a statutory duty rather than optional entitlement for local authorities. This was part of the wide political shift of the 1940s under Labour that involved the creation of the welfare state and the NHS. In 1945 school meals were described by the Ministry of Education as having 'a vital place in national policy for nutrition and well-being of children.'[4] A 1999 survey by the Medical Research Council suggested that despite rationing, children in 1950 had healthier diets than their counterparts in the 1990s, with more nutrients and lower levels of fat and sugar.[5] Regulated nutritional standards, having been introduced in 1906, were standardised in 1966.

These provisions were removed by the 1980 Education Act of Margaret Thatcher's government

Thatcher Govt

12 April 2011 at 22:07  
Blogger English Viking said...


Those were provisions for the poor only, and not universal.

I distinctly remember taking my dinner money to school, pre-Thatcher, in a little ladybird purse, with my name on the inside in case I lost it.


12 April 2011 at 22:17  
Anonymous len said...

I too paid for my school, dinners 5 shillings (if I remember correctly)for a week.
Which made each dinner in today`s money = 5p.(Gives some perspective on inflation.)

13 April 2011 at 08:30  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cameron is a racist.

What was it that Straw said – “the English as a race are not worth saving”? Why do our rulers hate us so much that they constantly try to outdo each other in their treacherous acts to reduce the English to a minority in our own country and disenfranchise us in the shortest possible timescale? Why do they feel the need to trample over the sacrifices that my father and grandfathers made in two world wars?

I will never vote ‘Conservative’ again. Never.

13 April 2011 at 08:31  

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