Toby Young on the Bullingdon Club and the fine art of bullshit


Toby Young on Oxford’s notorious Bullingon drinking club, with particular reference to club alumni Dave Cameron, Gideon “George” Osborne and Boris Johnson. The whole thing is worth a read, but hark at Toby’s conclusion:

The lesson each generation of Bright Young Things is taught at Oxford, thanks to their membership of these organisations, is that you don’t have to be to the manor born to become a member of Britain’s ruling class – or even particularly clever.

You don’t need charisma or sexual confidence or a sense of entitlement. All you need is the wherewithal to pretend to be someone who has these qualities. Provided you can do a reasonable impression of a person with the right stuff – and provided you wear the right uniform – that’s enough to propel you to the top.

I sometimes wonder what these contemporaries of mine must be thinking as they sit in their glasswalled corner offices, surveying the world beneath them through their picture windows.

Do they congratulate themselves on having fooled people into taking them seriously? Does it strike them as miraculous that they’ve made it, despite having indulged in behaviour at Oxford that would have seen them sent to jail if they were from less privileged backgrounds?

I doubt it. The discovery that all these young pretenders make when they take their seats at the Cabinet table, or become QCs, or pocket £100million on a complicated land deal, is that the people at the very pinnacle of British society – the people pulling the levers of power – are exactly like them.

There is no such thing as the real McCoy, just a bunch of schoolboys parading around in the contents of the dressing-up box. They don’t feel like frauds, because everyone else in this elite little club is as fraudulent as they are.

But then that’s the dirty little secret at the heart of British public life – and for the lucky few who are invited to become members of the Bullingdon, it’s a secret they discover much sooner than the rest of us.

That pretty much sums up Lord Snooty and his chums’ whole approach to politics, doesn’t it?

Rud eile: It wasn’t in the print edition of the Mail, but you have to give them credit on the web version for running a pic of the fruity Nigella Lawson with this article, on the general grounds that she was a contemporary gilded youth and that you can’t go wrong running pics of Nigella. But why a present-day one? The text helpfully gives you an excuse to run the (in)famous croquet pic:



  1. Phil said,

    July 24, 2009 at 8:33 am

    Toby Young is writing about talentless frauds who blag their way into privileged positions?

  2. Phil said,

    July 24, 2009 at 8:45 am

    Sorry about that last comment – composed in haste. Not worthy of me.

    Let me make the point another way:

    Toby Young is writing about smug, fraudulent, talentless Oxbridge oafs who blag their way into privileged positions and squat there as if by right for the rest of their stupid, complacent lives? And he’s doing it from the obscurity of a column in the Daily Mail?

    Much better.

  3. Martin Wisse said,

    July 24, 2009 at 9:10 am

    To the _Manor_ born, Toby Young? Tck.

  4. splinteredsunrise said,

    July 24, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Yes, Toby is in a bit of a Physician, Heal Thyself quandary. But as a former acolyte of Julie Burchill… well, the best you can say of Toby is that he’s aware of his own absurdity. Julie never was.

  5. ejh said,

    July 24, 2009 at 11:57 am

    Is she dead?

  6. splinteredsunrise said,

    July 24, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    Not exactly. She’s living in Brighton.

  7. Phil said,

    July 24, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    the best you can say of Toby is that he’s aware of his own absurdity

    He’d be aware of his own genital warts if he thought he could pitch a column on it.

  8. splinteredsunrise said,

    July 24, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Which is perhaps why he gets columns in the Daily Mail and I don’t. See also, Max Hastings.

  9. Phil said,

    July 24, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    It’s not what you know – or for that matter what you can write.

  10. ejh said,

    July 24, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    Thinking about it, it’s possible I’ve played croquet on that lawn myself if it’s where I think it is (I’m not sure – and I can’t read the caption so I don’t know if it makes the location clear). Not in a sedan chair though. Or indeed any sort of chair.

  11. splinteredsunrise said,

    July 24, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    No, it’s really the sedan chair that makes the photo. Ostentatious decadence, I think is the desired impression.

  12. ejh said,

    July 25, 2009 at 7:56 am

    See also, Max Hastings.

    Max Hastings

  13. Arthur Albiston said,

    July 25, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    Max Hastings wrote an interesting book on the August 69 pogrom in Belfast- possibly the first journalistic account, out in early 1970- Ulster 1969: the struggle for civil rights.
    It all went downhill after that.

  14. July 26, 2009 at 1:01 am

    I think regardless it’s a good idea to get an accurate picture as possible of these scumbags. They are the class enemy, they will kill people we know and love, their careers, theirs hopes and dreams must be destroyed. New Labour’s absolute shitting hopelessness means we well suffer the Cameroon scum.

  15. ejh said,

    July 26, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Oh yeah, I meant to write that you can’t play a proper croquet shot like that. It’s not a side-on game. You need to be absolutely behind the ball when you hit – completely the opposite to Nigella’s approach – and you also don’t want to be leaning over it, as you would if you were carried in a sedan chair, because if you do, that will tend to cause your ball to jump.


  16. Chris Williams said,

    July 26, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    Hastings’ Book on Bomber Command is not half bad. His dad worked for the Eagle ‘n all. This doesn’t stop his journalism from being journalistic, I’ll grant you.

  17. Cian said,

    July 27, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    “Not exactly. She’s living in Brighton.”

    No she moved. Not far, but out at least. Retirement village maybe?

  18. Cian said,

    July 27, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    The Tory years are going to be really wretched aren’t they.

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