Magazine article The Spectator

I Rang the Chancellor and Asked Him to Explain Himself -- but He Was Watching Football

Magazine article The Spectator

I Rang the Chancellor and Asked Him to Explain Himself -- but He Was Watching Football

Article excerpt

War is terrible. War is hell. War makes a man do unaccustomed things, lashing out to protect his children and his loved ones. And in the great class war of May 2000, launched by Labour with all the trickery and viciousness of Pearl Harbor, I have already allowed my emotions to get the better of me. You and I know that Gordon Brown was guilty of gross cheating in the matter of poor Laura Spence and her admission to Oxford. We all know the facts - that Laura was good, but five others, including two from the state system, three women, and two from ethnic minorities, were better. After a week of blow and counter-blow, Gordon's position ought to have been annihilated; and in truth it has now been accepted by most commentators that the government's treatment of the affair is, in the words of Kingsley Amis, an inverted pyramid of piss arising from a lie.

What I wondered, though, as I rocked with rage, was whether anyone had yet done enough to confront the Chancellor with his mendacity. And that is why, on finding myself alone the other night, with Mr Brown's home telephone number before me, I decided to see what he had to say for himself. Why did he say that she had Alevels, when she had none? Why was it an `absolute scandal' that one of those five other candidates had been admitted, and not Laura? What the hell was he up to, setting himself up as the great national tutor for admissions? Wasn't he ashamed to be stirring up this pointless, debilitating, zero-sum warfare between private and state education? Did he mean it? Was it a gaffe?

Would he perhaps like to apologise to all those of us who are now in agonies of indecision? Should we keep our children in their Islington Sinksbury Schools, and so save them from government-inspired stigma when it comes to university admissions, or should we continue to get up at the crack in the hope of buying them the best possible education? For perhaps half an hour I sat there muttering. Then I could take it no longer, and like a tarantula my hand sprang to the telephone. I dialled the Chancellor at home. `Hello,' said a Scottish voice, after several rings. I explained my business. There was a long silence. I tried to imagine the scene. Perhaps he was in the middle of cooking up some new tax, sitting there in his monk-like kitchen in Dunfermline town, drinking the bluid-red wine. But no, he was watching the Scotland-Northern Ireland match and, while our conversation was cordial, I had the impression that he did not wish to prolong it.

`Ha ha ha, Boris,' said the man who only a week ago was happy to shoot his mouth off about Laura Spence, and her ego-bashing experience in applying to Oxford, `I'm certainly not going to talk to you now.' B-b-bbut look, I said, trying to convey something of the hurt of many people I know, who think Gordon Brown has been not bad, as Labour chancellors go, and who cannot understand what he is playing at. This Laura business, I said: was it a scandal or wasn't it? `Ha ha ha,' said Gordon, more mellifluously than ever, and advised that I should fix to interview him `in the normal way'; and so you can imagine, when our dialogue finished several seconds later, with mutual expressions of esteem, that my frustration was redoubled. Would no one speak for the government? Was Gordon Brown to be allowed to tell a series of untruths about one girl's admission to university, whip up a class war, and then loll back and watch the football? …

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