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.
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
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.
Monday, September 27, 2010