Sunday, 1 March 2009

Gordon in Oxford

It seems somehow fitting that the first post on my now ressurected blog should come with the visit of a Labour Prime Minister to Oxford. Addressing a packed Sheldonian theatre, the PM was witty, charming, entirely different from the image we so often see on television. He referenced Gladstone, Disraeli, and of course the left's new icon of protection, Barack Obama. Indeed, the peculiar way the Vice-Chancellor introduced the PM put me instantly in mind of the inauguration. "We have had many Prime Ministers give this lecture; past, present and future." Now, perhaps I am just a suspicious sort of chap, but I think this may have been a reference to David Cameron who presented the lecture previously. Talk about calling it early! The Vice Chancellor probably objects to a non-Oxonian as PM, they don't go down too well.

Gordon's point though, about Britain needing more scientists, more engineers, more inventors was sound in many ways. Yet it's an old cry. The fact is that even during Britain's industrial heyday, the mills were just there to buy you a title. The giants of industry might have made their fortunes as Northern innovators, but they died as squires in the Home Counties. It seem we all want to read Greats. Even in the midst of a recession Teach First, one of the surest jobs around, can't get enough science teachers. The shift has to be cultural. We don't think an engineer is as good as a barrister. We'd like to be the boss, but actual employers? As my politics teacher once said, none of us want to be Mike Baldwin. And this in a way has led us to the financial mess. We want jobs where we don't get our hands dirty. We're a great nation for ideas, and a great nation when it comes to owning the fruits of those ideas. Yet the middle bit, the grimy bit, where the idea is made real with dirt and sweat and steel, that we don't like. We're above it. Or at least we think we are.

Yet that's the crucial step that gives you a manufacturing base, that provides the high tech jobs Gordon's always talking about. And it's why you should never count out the United States, who still have a passion for it. For you see, still in Britain, it's not how much money you make. It's whether that stain on your fingers is ink or oil, whether your uniform is a black gown or a blue boiler suit. We remain the most class-bound society on earth. We shuffle money. And we're damn good at it. But there's only so long you can trade on the Imperial reputation. Ladies and gentlemen, it's time to get our hands dirty.

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