I, like most without a masochistic streak, avoid the Daily Mail. Hence it was with some concern that I noticed Quentin Letts upon the Cherwell’s pages. Putting aside the writing style of a man desperately trying to be Boris Johnson, and failing, there were certain key points which must be addressed.
Firstly, Mr Letts is not persecuted, and is not akin to the poets in the PRC’s darker days. He makes a fine living as part of the main stream media, both in print and on the state broadcaster, the BBC. He is not Liu Hongbin, seeing his father shot and fleeing into exile. Mao didn’t invite the agents of reaction onto political panel shows.
Secondly, he proves he knows remarkably little about the British character. Proclaiming oneself to be superior is something other nations do. We Brits traditionally take the view that overt displays of personal ability are rather, well, American. Fundamentally what is important is not whether you win, but how you play. Hence why the most famous date in English history is a defeat by the Normans, and national pride is built around the spirit of Dunkirk.
Further, what Mr Letts’ writing reveals is not a thrill for meritocracy, but for an old, nineteenth century class structure, only without all that namby-pamby noblesse oblige. An accent other than ‘received pronunciation’ is called “crass and grotty”. That rules out I suppose Shakespeare (a Nouveau riche Brummie), Cockney-Keats, and Wordsworth (for whom matter and water were full rhymes). Bobbie Burns and Yeats don’t count of course, too Celtic, though Wilde might be allowed as an adopted son.
This should not surprise us. Previous books have had as villains Kenneth Baker, who abolished corporal punishment in schools, and Helen Willets for the crime of “parading her Chester accent”. His Daily Mail columns show what this man is. The forcefulness of Quentin Letts’ recent attack upon the new Speaker, John Bercow, reflects the horror that the (Jewish) son of a North London taxi driver would not only dare to go against an old Etonian, but beat him. I mean if that can happen to an Oxford educated baronet, just about anyone could defeat a tabloid journalist who only went to Haileybury.
We in Oxford are not a besieged citadel of “bog-standard Britain”, fighting the Roundheads on North Parade. We’re university students who worked hard, regardless of our social background. We are here for a variety of reasons, but none of them are to fight some strange fiction of class war. Especially not at the summons of someone who went to Cambridge.