The Independent London Newspaper
26th April 2019

ILLTYD HARRINGTON: A ‘secret world’ and the myth of meritocracy

    Rupert Murdoch

    Few defy the global ambitions and insidious authority of Rupert Murdoch

    Published: 28 January, 2015

    WE are all equal now,” they told us. What a blatant lie! The answer from them was the social consequence of the 1944 Butler education act. That piece of wartime coalition legislation said: “Our education has to be organised around the individual’s age, aptitude and ability.” Seventy years later, and many working-class children’s innate abilities have flourished. The meritocracy was born. 

    Today academic fees discriminate against certain working-class students. But in 1963 Harold Wilson’s Labour government accepted the Robbins report, which flung the doors open on redbrick universities. 

    That was a profound move. Was the establishment then reduced to royal weddings, trumpets and tabards, and the frozen face of the Queen? 

    She continued to open parliament with pomp and archaic ceremony, but always within the chamber of the House of Lords, a non-elected body. The real levers of power remain in remote hands. Surely the Commons guards our rights?

    That’s not entirely reassuring when civil liberties activists are having to have recourse to the Magna Carta of the 13th century and the 1688 Bill of Rights. 

    Peter Hennessy, a lecturer and journalist, is now Professor Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield; sitting on the cross benches, an insider at last. 

    In his slim but complacent pamphlet he attempts an act of reassurance which ignores completely the powerful matrix of financial and economic power which chills the heart of the tenant of Number 10. 

    Rupert Murdoch, who squats over a mammoth media empire, claims to be anti-establishment. But few defy his global ambitions and insidious authority. A Scotland Yard top level investigation found no evidence of phone-hacking in Empire Murdoch. After a year-long trial, that was not as certain as it might have been. Cash for honours was proving to be a danger point for Tony Blair but was “happily” resolved. At that time, the commissioners of the Metropolitan Police Service were rewarded with peerages. Nice to serve in a high paid job and then to get a security within the establishment. 

    I will not hint at collusion – others might. 

    We have all forgotten to note the activities of the permanent secretaries – the Sir Humphreys – within government. They hold a weekly meeting in a room off Horse Guards Parade, which remains an exclusive and secretive affair. This establishment pays scant attention to parliamentary democracy.

    Others perpetuate the myth of our economic dependency on the banks. There are innumerable occasions when banking law has been broken, but very little redemptive action taken. Conspiracy theories are perhaps more often accurate than the fantasies that come out of the banking world. 

    There is a little chink in this very set armour, in that the courts are now showing much more independence. It suits their public image for our political leaders to be seen together at prayer or hand-in-hand on state occasions. Life in parliament is one of bonhomie. We on the other hand, the plebs, seem more than ready to accept their diktat.

    When institutions which are satirised laugh in your face, you know the target has not been damaged. Peter Cook, the saddest man ever to live in Hampstead, tried in 1961 by establishing a club called The Establishment. One night he was amazed to see the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in the audience enjoying being ridiculed. 

    There are many other examples of the power of this group of people. The Jimmy Savile scandal at the BBC was answered by the chairman Lord Patten and a close friend of his was slipped in to the Director-General’s job. Another way to power and glory. 

    Let the last word go to author John le Carré, who at the Hay Literary Festival in May 2013 said: “We pretend we haven’t got a political establishment. We do have a political establishment. It is mainly public schools. It is mainly ‘people like us’. Its spiritual home is the secret world."

    Establishment and Meritocracy, by Peter Hennessy, (Haus Curiosities, £7.99).