Who runs Britain? Discuss.

OK. It’s been too long since my last post but that can be explained by the tenant who went into a spiral of anger melt-down and clinical paranoia. Yep. It’s all go-go-go at chez-moi. But hopefully he has gone to a better place (and never gets back in contact!)

Anyway, among the many books that have passed my eyes are two books that have the words “Who Runs Britain? Prominently on the front cover. One is the book of that title written by Robert Preston of BBC fame and the other is Friends in High Places by Jeremy Paxman of BBC fame. (the title says it all really). If you didn’t go to a major public school and then on to Oxford or Cambridge well that’s tough – little chance of you progressing in government, law, politics, banking or the BBC. Though your chances of making mega bucks increases sharply (no-one with mega bucks went to these elite establishments, they were too busy making money.

Paxman’s book was written  in 1990 (actually it was published that year and given the obvious sweat that went into it, I think it will have taken him a year or two to do the research. But what do I know? Perhaps he had a bevy of research assistants who did all the reading and left him usable quotes. Whatever the process, the result is a highly readable and very depressing account of how unmeritocratic England was at that time.  However this survey of all the sectors of the establishment does offer a very rounded description set within a fully explained historical context. Five stars for Paxman

Preston’s book starts out well – and urbanely enough – but then descends into a deconstruction of the business deals and financial shenanigans immediately prior to the great melt down of 2008 (the year it was published). Preston does not begin to look at the rest of what is going on in Britain – money is king in his view and everything else is irrelevant. The new serf classes (us) are to be completely over-powered and overshadowed in every way by the mega rich. And Preston seems to think this is reasonable. I note that a recent commentator on the as-we-speak US Elections, rather agrees. He doesn’t think it much matters who wins because  “The guy in the White House is really taking his orders from finance.” – Max Keiser.

Have things changed since Paxman wrote his book? Well, he quotes a civil servant who predicts that by 2016 a third of the senior posts would be held by women. “We’ll see!” snorts Paxman. I thought this was a statistic worth checking so I googled “percentage of women in senior civil service positions” and came up with this:

“As of April 2011, women made up 35.9% of the senior civil service as a whole (compared to 35.6% in Sept 2010). Women in top management positions (at permanent secretary or director level) rose to 29.5%, from 29.2% in September 2010.” – Guardian

So change is occurring and we are a lot more meritocratic than we were in yesteryear.

One other difference between the Paxman book and the Preston was that Paxman’s had the feel of a book that you could settle very comfortably in the armchair and read for an evening or two or even three (but by that time I start getting impatient with any book). The Preston book took me 30 minutes to understand where he was going and another 30 minutes to skid and slide through the remaining pages. Two stars at best.

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About Jonathan Chamberlain

I am a novelist and creative writer attacking all genres indiscriminately - Dreams of Gold (humour) - Alphabet of Vietnam (literary suspense) - Whitebait & Tofu (noir suspense) - Wordjazz for Stevie (memoir) - King Hui (biography) - Chinese Gods (cultural analysis) - The Cancer Survivor's Bible (self-help) My literary blog is In Praise of Older Books see www.2ndhandbooklover.wordpress.com. My Fighting Cancer website is www.fightingcancer.com. My cancer information archive is at www.cancerfighter.wordpress.com
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