Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

Much was made, in advance, of the fact that Samantha Cameron was at last speaking in public. She did it on Sunday night, interviewed by Trevor McDonald - very well, and in a surprisingly old-fashioned way. She looked lovely when she said that she was proud of her husband and that it would be 'an honour' to be married to a Prime Minister. But what the pre-released publicity did not prepare viewers for was Mrs Cameron's accent. It was perfect estuarial.

The words 'really, really', for example, came out as 'reelly, reelly'. I could not detect a hint of the tones of her father, Sir Reginald Sheffield, 8th baronet. Sam could have passed herself off as a call-centre worker from Essex, or a weather forecaster, without exciting suspicion. This must have required effort.

Mrs Cameron was once a slightly bohemian art student, so you would not expect her voice to be cut-glass; nevertheless, she has not spent all her adult life with that accent. Just as Mrs Thatcher developed a voice which effaced all traces of Lincolnshire (except, famously, the word 'frit'), so Mrs Cameron has made the same effort for self-improvement, but in the opposite class direction. In his preface to Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw wrote: '. . . for the encouragement of people whose accent cuts them off from all high employment, I may add that the change wrought by Professor Higgins on the flowergirl is neither impossible nor uncommon.' He did not foresee that this would still apply when 'high employment' requires that you appear downwardly rather than upwardly mobile.

By the same token, I noticed, our editor was billed on the programme as 'columnist, News of The World', his embarrassingly grand job not mentioned.

And when the camera moved along the rows of ordinary Tory workers, it lingered lovingly on the extremely black face of my friend Kwasi Kwarteng, who has been selected for the safe seat of Spelthorne. Kwasi's shameful secret, not revealed, is that he is an Etonian.

The Trevor McDonald programme did labour the point about David Cameron being 'posh'. Jonathan Freedland, of the Guardian, came on to say that Mr Cameron's Eton education could not help him to understand how ordinary people live. If you look up Mr Freedman in Who's Who (where, by definition, 'ordinary people' do not reside), you find that he was educated at University College School, London, and Wadham College, Oxford. What insights into 'your espoor, your huddled masses', are provided by Hampstead, Oxford and the Guardian, which are unavailable at Eton? It is true that our rulers nowadays are extremely cut off from the ruled, but this is not because they are drawn from the aristocracy (most of them aren't), but because they are a metropolitan political/media class financed to an astonishing degree (look at the salary of Mark Thompson of the BBC, look at the MPs' expenses scandal) by the rest of us.

Another part of this class is made up of university administrators, particularly vice-chancellors. It turns out that many of them are earning huge salaries - over 80 of them getting more than the Prime Minister.

Top of the list among those universities which are overwhelmingly dependent on public money is University College, London. Professor Malcolm Grant, the Vice-Chancellor (recreations: 'electronic gadgets, opera, woodlands') gets £404,272. …

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