Magazine article The Spectator

Labour's Red-Brick Revolutionaries

Magazine article The Spectator

Labour's Red-Brick Revolutionaries

Article excerpt

Labour was once the clever party. Under Jeremy Corbyn, its front bench is purged of Oxbridge intellectuals

'I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University,' said William F. Buckley Jr, the American conservative writer. Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party must be hoping British voters agree.

Under Corbyn, the Labour party -- once the clever party -- has had a brain transplant. It's out with the Oxbridge and Harvard graduates with first-class degrees; in with the red-brick university graduates.

Or, in Corbyn's case, a non-graduate. Corbyn got two Es at A-level at Adams' Grammar School in Newport, Shropshire. He did a year of trade union studies at the North London Polytechnic before dropping out. Corbyn is the first Labour leader not to go to university since James Callaghan -- and Callaghan only didn't go because his family, unlike the prosperous Corbyns, couldn't afford it.

Corbyn, perhaps because of his low-grade education, has largely replaced the Oxbridge elite -- who ran the Labour party under Ed Miliband -- with red-brick alumni. John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, left school at 17 and was later a mature student at Brunel and Birkbeck universities. Tom Watson, the deputy leader, was at Hull University, as were Rosie Winterton, the shadow chief whip, and Jon Trickett, shadow minister for the cabinet office. Hilary Benn, shadow foreign secretary, was at Sussex, as were Owen Smith, shadow secretary for work and pensions, and Lord Bassam, the Labour chief whip in the Lords. Michael Dugher, shadow culture secretary, was at Nottingham University. And Gloria De Piero, shadow minister for young people, attended the University of Westminster.

Let's not be snobbish. Those universities are good. But it isn't snobbery to point out that they aren't as good as Oxford or Cambridge -- second and fourth respectively in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, published last week. Hull is 401st equal. Jeremy Corbyn's alma mater, now London Metropolitan University, doesn't make the 800-strong list.

Bill Buckley had a point. Eggheads are often not best equipped to run things. But do we want our top politicians to be drawn from the lower ranks of academia?

Labour was traditionally the intellectuals' party. The late Denis Healey got a double first in Greats at Balliol, the brainiacs' Oxford college. Harold Wilson got an outstanding first in PPE at Jesus College, Oxford, with alphas on every paper. Wilson became a lecturer at New College and a research fellow at University College.

The Tories were the dimmer lot, suspicious of planet-sized brains. In 1961, Lord Salisbury called Iain Macleod -- the Tory chancellor and former Spectator editor -- 'too clever by half'. …

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