Going for Gould
- Apocalypse 2000: Economic Breakdown and the Suicide of Democracy 1989-2000 by Peter Jay and Michael Stewart
Sidgwick, 254 pp, £12.95, June 1987, ISBN 0 283 99440 1
Election post-mortems concentrate, reasonably enough, on how the electorate actually behaved – which class, which region or which sex swung most. In 1987 the most striking finding was surely the highly differential way in which the sexes behaved. Among men the pro-Labour swing from the Tories was a mere 0.5 per cent, but among women it was nine times greater, at 4.5 per cent. (All figures here are based on the vast MORI sample of 23,396 voters interviewed in the course of the campaign, weighted to the actual outcome.) Further analysis of that swing shows a peculiar age distribution among women: among the 35-54 age-group women moved only 2 per cent towards Labour; the 25-34s swung 6.5 per cent; and the 18-24s a massive 11 per cent. (The shift among men aged 18-24 was only 1.5 per cent to Labour.) The real peculiarity is that women aged 55-65 also moved 4.5 per cent to Labour and women over 65 showed a 7 per cent Labour swing. That is to say, it was the middle-aged who were the odd women out: not only did far more younger women swing to Labour, but so did many more older women. Without doubt, most of these middle-aged women who stuck with the Tories lived in the South: Southern women showed a pro-Labour swing only one-third as great as that of Northern women. Even so, women in the South did show a pro-Labour swing, while the men swung clearly towards the Tories.
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Vol. 9 No. 18 · 15 October 1987
SIR: R.W. Johnson (LRB, 23 July) calls for Labour to start selecting Oxford graduates as Parliamentary candidates, as a way of increasing its intellectual status. As a mature student at Oxford, with a trade-union background, may I state that I do not really believe Mr Johnson fully understands the reasons why Labour no longer draws its intellectuals from Oxford. He correctly points out that the greatest period of Oxford influence was in the Fifties and Sixties. That was a period of consensus, compromise and agreement, with Oxford reflecting this mood. Political discussions took place in the comfort of the common rooms, and student politicians received their training in the elegant surroundings of the Oxford Union. It was also a time when higher education was largely confined to those people coming straight from school, with only the most brilliant scholars from the working class being accepted. Public schools and the upper middle class held sway. Unfortunately, that is an atmosphere which still prevails in modern Oxford, and which has led to its decreasing influence in Labour affairs. Oxford politics are still about consensus, and therefore of course the party of consensus, the SDP, dominates Oxford’s political circles. Outside of Oxford, the streets are burning but dons still hanker for the golden era of detached intellectual debate. Mrs Thatcher has shattered the ideals of compromise and has polarised the country, but still Oxford cries out for a middle way. Mr Kinnock may not be an intellectual giant but he does represent and symbolise the anger and frustration of people who have seen their lives destroyed by this government.
Wadham College, Oxford
Vol. 9 No. 20 · 12 November 1987
SIR: Mr Xavier asserts that I ‘call for Labour to start selecting Oxford graduates as Parliamentary candidates’ (Letters, 15 October). I’m afraid this is quite untrue. The trends in Labour élite recruitment are a sociological phenomenon one could hardly influence by issuing ‘calls’ of any kind, and personally I have no ambition to change the way in which either the Labour Party or Oxford graduates behave. Mr Xavier also seems to have invented his own picture of Oxford in the Sixties, when, he says, the place was all civilised elegance, public schoolboys and moderate politics confined to common rooms. Mr Xavier was not here in the Sixties. I was. When I came up, there had just been major street violence when an anti-apartheid demonstration against the South African Ambassador had got out of control. The Oxford Union was in the hands of the far Left – first Eric Abrahams, then Tariq Ali. Most Oxford economists seemed to be off working for the Labour Government. Very large numbers of students were on the far Left and a student Tory was an unusual thing. Sit-ins and occupations were fairly common. The whole era was the most wonderful fun, enjoyed by large numbers of students who were not English public school products. Mr Xavier wishes to attack Oxford for its present-day SDP-ish cosiness. Well and good – that’s his business. But his criticism might carry more weight if he did not combine it with distortions of what I wrote and of the facts of past history.
Magdalen College, Oxford
Vol. 9 No. 22 · 10 December 1987
SIR: Now that he is settling down to over-fed middle age as a fellow of Oxford’s most desirable college, R.W. Johnson seems to be under some sort of compulsion to create the myth of a revolutionary Oxford in the Sixties (Letters, 12 November). He says that sit-ins and occupations were fairly common: he does not mention that much the largest such manifestation, the storming of the Clarendon Building, involved less than 5 per cent of the undergraduates then in residence. He talks of a Union dominated by left-wingers like Tariq Ali but does not mention the Union’s declining prestige and increasingly marginal role in undergraduate life, or the even greater weight people like William Waldegrave and Gyles Brandreth had in Union affairs. He says, ‘The whole era was the most wonderful fun, enjoyed by large numbers of students who were not English public school products,’ but he does not mention the even larger number – including practically everyone I met while an undergraduate 1966-1969 – who were bored, frustrated and above all disillusioned by an Oxford that was so much more mundane than their school daydreams. He no doubt recalls the political graffiti covering the walls of Balliol but ignores the predominantly right-wing tone of colleges like St John’s, Keble, Teddy Hall etc, or the snobbishness and social polarisation. All this is brilliantly evoked in Leo Bellingham’s Oxford, The Novel which has a particularly savage chapter dealing with the undergraduate Left. Even in those days they thought Oxford was the English university counterpart of Paris ’68. Perhaps one should be grateful that the naive fantasies of nearly twenty years ago have not lost their magic, but one would like to know what it is that R.W. Johnson is teaching to his predominantly public-school-educated pupils at Magdalen: is it History and Politics or is it the Art of the Fairy Story?