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Showing posts with label The PPE degree. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The PPE degree. Show all posts

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Danny Alexander – “cruel and illiberal” cuts?

Jon Snow to Danny Alexander, Channel Four News, 20th October 2010

Nevertheless, the point of all this is that you have to realise £2 billion out of this programme, and that means, quite possibly, some quite severely disabled people are going to have to be got to a point where they are not able to work and will not get any income.”

Alexander babbled feebly about fairness, getting ‘our’ public finances in order, and the back-to-work scheme.

Jon Snow:

But when you keep talking about fairness – and my goodness, we’ve heard that word a lot today – your office sent me a graph of what you’ve done today, and if you look at the weight of what’s been done today, the biggest quantity of it falls upon the poor. That’s hardly Liberal Democrat excellence, is it?”

More ConLib jargon came from an increasingly uncomfortable Danny.

Jon Snow:

Let’s take another very quick one. Where you have a disability allowance – you’ve got a mobility allowance within that, and if you actually have either the misfortune or the fortune to be housed in a home, in some kind of supportive environment, you lose the mobility allowance. A rather cruel and illiberal thing to do, is it not?”

Let’s take a closer look at this tall, red-haired, rather diffident Scotsman and ask how he came to be the instrument of Tory millionaires in visiting cruel and illiberal cuts to income and vital services to the poor and disabled.

He was born in Edinburgh then spent part of his boyhood on Colonsay. 38 years of age, he was educated at Lochaber High School then gained an honours degree at St. Anne’s College, Oxford in politics, philosophy and economics – the PPE degree that I have commented on in a recent blog, the preferred choice of the career politician. (Click here for PPE blog)

St. Anne’s College has impeccable liberal (with a small L) credentials, originally set up as a place for emancipated women. Here’s what it says about its values on its website -

St Anne's values

St Anne's has always set its outward face towards the world. It has always been driven by its sense of connecting the ideals of the University to those who have not previously had the chance to encounter them – originally it was women, then women too poor to come to Oxford otherwise, and latterly a confident, tolerant, diverse and multicultural community of women and men.

One can understand why a young, perhaps idealistic, aspiring Liberal Democrat might choose such a college. One might expect that it would pursue academic excellence but not at the price of a wider awareness of society and its original ideals. Again, in its own words -

“… it is implacable in the pursuit of academic excellence, but does not see this as setting it apart from contemporary society.”

How could a product of this background and this education produce someone who, as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was the main number cruncher of savage cuts falling mainly upon the poor and the disabled, “cruel and illiberal” cuts?

The politics and the economics components of the PPE degree seem to have been assimilated – what happened to the philosophy part?


His career has been entirely in communications, and almost entirely in politics, except for a brief period (2004-2005) when he was Head of Communications for the Cairngorms National Park Authority. He has been Shadow Just-about-Everything with the LibDems, and, very briefly, Scottish Secretary in the ConLib coalition, until David Laws’ abrupt exit from the Treasury catapulted him into the role for which he will become famous or infamous – make your own prediction.

This career path is exactly what the PPE degree equips its holders for - it is the modern day version of the government or colonial administrator’s career in the bright summer of the British Empire – someone with little or no empathy with the lives of ordinary people, with no hard, tangible experience of commerce or industry, but nonetheless destined to make decisions that impact cruelly upon those they float above, wholly insulated from the pain, suffering and economic misery they are destined to inflict on millions.

But you can redeem yourself, Danny, and in the process, make a real and fundamental impact on the corrupt Westminster and UK Establishment values that have brought you to this point.

Resign, and make a public statement that you are revolted by what you have become a part of, and the way your liberal and democratic ideals have become betrayed by the company you were induced to keep. Commit yourself to work for the very people whose lives your policies will impoverish and destroy. Then you will stand alone and above the heaving, mendacious mass of Westminster careerists, lobby fodder, like swine at the trough.

Ideally, recognise that you can really only make an impact on the land that I believe you love – Scotland – by joining the fight for Scottish independence. Then you will really be a Scottish liberal and a Scottish democrat.

Monday, 27 September 2010

A defence of the PPE degree

I thought the following comment (and my reply) was worth bringing on to the main blog. It is a cogently-argued defence of the PPE and the political career route I described by an undergraduate who has chosen this path.

Stephen said...

What's the big problem with the PPE course, and with Oxbridge? It sounds to me like inverse snobbery.

I'm heading off this year to Oxford University to do the Politics, Philosophy and Economics course. This is because I want to enter a career of Politics, because I want to become a Politician. I want to be a speech writer and political advisor beforehand, because I want to know how politics is done. And then I want to join a political party which I believe can get me into power.

Why? Because that's what I truly believe is the right thing to do. I have certain political beliefs and convictions, and I know the only way they're going to make any difference is if I'm actually in government. If that's cold and calculating, then I'm sorry, but if burning convictions lead to shouting in the sidelines and being unable to make a real difference to real peoples lives, then that's something that needs to be done.

Your analysis and description of the so-called "machine politician" lacks the motivation behind the story, the drive and the passion, plus the intellectual characterisation and philosophical convictions that make us who we are. People like us, the conveyor belt politicians, are a necessary part of our modern day representative democracy.

I imagine in ten or twenty years from now, people such as yourself will be alienated from voting for me, a typical Oxbridge PPE educated candidate. I find that sad, that a life I'm trying to devote to help other people is being systematically demonised.

Tell me, that young kid who is about to embark on the PPE degree in Oxford, why I am any less capable of understanding real life because of it. I, who was state educated. I, who took up at times two jobs to ensure I and my family at times had enough money. I, who missed out on opportunities because of my background. I, of a one parent family, of a turbulent childhood.

Why should I be made to feel any less, when I have worked and struggled all my life to get to the point where I am today?

I admit that there are career politicians who do indeed treat it as something to be done for personal self-gain, and they are bad. But don't brush all Oxbirdge PPEists the same way please. Don't define us all as Asimovian. Cold and calculating as we might one day be, we're still human, I'm still a kid, and we all have a lot yet to learn.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Blogger Moridura said...

I don't have a big problem with the PPE course, Stephen.

Sometimes called Modern Greats, it is very popular with students, although some have argued against it from various standpoints - that it destroyed the traditional classics degrees, that it dilutes each subject: some even argue that it perpetuates the class system!

It is undoubtedly a strange hybrid, and can be seen as a degree tailored for the needs of the employer rather than for true learning, but that is a criticism aimed at a lot of degrees - and universities.

Having said all that, had it been available in the early 1950s, and had I had the resources to stay on at school and go to university, it is probably the degree I would have chosen.

My target is not the degree, but the new political class who chose it for political careers of the type I have described, e.g. David Cameron, Ed Miliband etc.

It originated in Balliol College, Oxford in the early 1920s and was aimed specifically at the civil service and the new breed of administrators that the British Empire believed it needed. It would be unfair to the degree to equate it with the progressive decline of the Empire that followed. Balliol of course is the heart of the perpetuation of the class system in Britain, hence its detractors on those grounds.

I believe the PPE degree is a strange but relevant hybrid in the 21st century, that it is a valid choice for students. It is not the degree itself, but the use of it by a narrow, self-perpetuating class that I criticise.

I wish you well with your studies, Stephen, and hope that when you graduate you will be able to make use of the breadth of vision and understanding it brings to you to make a productive contribution to our trouble world. The future is in your hands, not mine.

Best wishes,

Peter Curran

Monday, September 27, 2010