Tiny Caste

On Saturdays I buy the Financial Times (FT Weekend), mostly for the quality of the writing in the magazine; my favourite columnist is Simon Kuper, who has just written a book called ‘Chums: how a tiny caste of Oxford Tories took over the UK’. Kuper believes that Oxford Uni in the 1980s is a unique context to understand the present Tory Govt – from the emergence of Brexit, to resisting lockdown, to the arrogant awarding of contracts and jobs to chums.

In 1986, the charismatic Boris Johnson was president of the Oxford Union Debating Society, along with Michael Gove and others. Kuper himself (the book’s author) arrives in 1988, contemporary with Jacob Rees-Mogg and Dominic Cummings. We recognise a dozen names from public life – parts of an ‘intimate elite’ who came together thirty years ago. So much of today’s Britain is shaped by Oxbridge politicians, journalists, academics remote from common experience; they can’t understand the public rage at Partygate; they certainly can’t imagine anyone who uses food banks: ‘a life-long experiential chasm’.

Every country produces its own elites but, in Scotland, the punters don’t approve, so the ‘chosen’ tend to keep their heads down. We certainly don’t share the English tolerance of a ‘ruling class’. As Rabbie said: “The man o’ independent mind, he looks and laughs at a’ that”. After independence, I like to think of Scotland’s natural direction as a form of decentralised, democratic socialism. Yes, I know we’ve a way to go – but this will have nothing to do with a ’tiny caste of Oxford Tories’.


If, like myself, you think of a world after capitalism, I can recommend, “How to be an anti-capitalist in the 21st century” (terrible title). The late Erik Olin Wright was a Marxist who rejected the ideas of ‘class struggle’ and ‘revolution’ as too disruptive; instead, his book concentrates on how we can ‘erode’ capitalism, by establishing new, collaborative means of production and employment. He defines capitalism as a combination of market exchange with private ownership; the social economy combines market exchange with common ownership. I spent many years experimenting with such approaches alongside local communities: Wright’s book would have helped our thinking. Most Marxist analysis is boring; this review is not too bad.


When it became clear that Scotland’s vast swathes of peatland – once considered wasteland – could help tackling climate change, there were high hopes that highland communities would benefit. But, instead, Scotland is now the centre of a ‘net zero’ land grab, by those seeking to profit from the global carbon offsetting market. Dani Garavelli’s article.


Prior to Tuesday’s grand apology in the Commons, I was convinced that Johnson had got away with Partygate distractions – but his repeated lies have not gone away. One reason is that Keir Starmer gave the most impressive performance of his career, a statement of authority which matched the gravity of the situation. It looks like the 5th May elections could decide the PM’s fate. Good article.


Energy bosses warned this week, that price rises have gone beyond the scale that their industry can deal with – that a massive shift is needed in Govt policy to prevent significant numbers of households falling into fuel poverty in the coming months. Worst hit will be the poorest with pre-paid meters – who could literally go cold this winter.


There is something fundamentally ‘likeable’ about Pope Francis (I read somewhere he loves the tango). Like myself, Jorge Bergoglio is descended from migrants, and this article is about the unveiling of a massive statue in St Peter’s Square in honour of migrants and refugees of various cultures: “We the people of this continent are not afraid of foreigners, because many of us were once foreigners”.


To be a good gardener, you need to understand what is going on in your soil – but also in your soul. This quote is from a rewarding book called ‘The Well Gardened Mind’ by Sue Stuart-Smith:

“Cultivation works both ways; it is inward as well as outward and tending a garden can become an attitude towards life. In a world that is increasingly dominated by technology and consumption, gardening puts us in direct relationship with the reality of how life is generated and sustained, and with how fragile and fleeting it all can be. Now more than ever we need to remind ourselves that, first and foremost, we are creatures of the earth.”