Friday, 27 August 2010

Splendid, sensible Country Life

Country Life is a splendid weekly magazine.  It really is.  A wee bit on the dear side at £3.20, perhaps, but splendid nonetheless.

The first quarter of each edition, give or take, is consumed by an array of marvellous property porn.  Aesthetically pleasing, and no less important in its revelation that for the price of a two-bedroom maisonette on the Upper Richmond Road you could have a 7-bedroom pile in Lincolnshire, inclusive of gardens, garages, a tennis court and mown parkland.  Not just any parkland, mind, this one is mown parkland.

Then comes the frontispiece.  Ah, that fair frontispiece.  A young English rose perched on a low wall at the family's old rectory in the Cotswolds, with faithful Montgomery the black lab and her degree in fine art from Florence.

Yes, Country Life is predictable but soothingly so.  From the hunt balls to the bridge column to the agricultural shows, it is there to reassure us that a part of this nation's way of life remains, still buggering on, blissfully neglected by metropolitan politicians.  It is the sort of rag you pile up in a basket in the downstairs bathroom to flick through a few minutes at a time.  As comforting as the quilted soft toilet roll you forgot you missed so much when you come home from university.

Occasionally, however, it can be all of that and more.  Just now and again, Country Life produces an edition like that of 25th August.  At times like this it becomes more than a romantic tonic for the rural talking classes.  It becomes nakedly political, and being of a straightforward, rural bent, it talks pure common sense.

This week's editorial, entitled 'Britain's elite is back', is worth some sizeable selective quoting.
"The BBC, for example, has acquired a new lexicon of abuse, the only one it still permits itself.  Milder terms include 'Old Etonian', 'Oxbridge', 'public school', 'upper-class', 'toff', 'aristo' and the unspeakable 'posh'... Even in lighter contexts, such as Radio 4's The News Quiz, 'toff' is a cue for bigotry of a kind no longer acceptable in any other area of British life.  The gags are usually delivered in a parody of received pronunciation and involve scenarios such as having one's fag stuff a fox with caviar.  They might also be funny if they weren't so clearly motivated by insecurity, by the family-size bucket of chips on the broadcaster's shoulder.  Why so is a mystery: more of these satirists earned their spurs with the Footlights than on the working-men's club circuit.  Nor is wealth the issue.  The Left likes the rich these days.  They just don't like them to be 'posh'."
Former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, once said that he didn't come into politics to make David Beckham poorer.  Lord Mandelson of Hartlepool, in the days when he was still an everyday commoner, similarly uttered that his party was very comfortable with people getting filthy rich.  To be fair, those two probably don't mind 'posh' people either.  But Mark Hedges, Country Life's editor, has a point about the rest of the Left.  How is it any less prejudiced to dislike someone for how they sound as it is for how they look.  Hedges goes on to explain just how damaging this culture has become.
"This chippiness has been a disaster, tantamount to Britain's decapitating herself.  The result has been a devaluing of anyone who might sound faintly Establishment, a massive rejection of national expertise.  For example, the media doted on the former Defence Secretary, a trade unionist turned politician [sic], and doubted any Top Brass who said all was not as it should be with our armed forces.  What, after all, did a bunch of generals know about war?  Brummy always trumped plummy."
Also highlighted is the gross distortion that is the received media wisdom on Oxbridge and independent schools.  They are insular, elitist (as though that is a dirty word), and discriminatory.  That this does not fit into the Left's narrative of victimisation does not bother people.  The following facts are just ignored.
"Gordon Brown attacked Magdalen College, Oxford.  Its exclusivity, he declared, was 'an absolute scandal.'  Magdalen is so exclusive, in fact, that it welcomed a butcher's son who became Lord Denning, and an illegitimate son who became Lawrence of Arabia.  Its undergraduates, many from state schools, achieve more firsts than any other Oxford college.  It educated five members of the present Cabinet.  They earned their places there by being bright and hard-working.  Selectivity is not snobbery... This is the reality of the British elite - social mobility through merit and not some insecure prejudice based on Brideshead Revisited...  'There'll never be another Old Etonian Prime Minister' was the chorus just a year ago.  Well, there is, and why wouldn't we want one?  Eton is an outstanding school, and its pupils comprise greater diversity - social, racial and cultural - than Mr Brown's Kirkcaldy class of 1964."
The great sadness, however, is that Hedges is partly wrong on one count.  Social mobility in this country is not as straightforward as he makes out.  After thirteen years of a Labour Government it is at its lowest for generations.  He is correct about selectivity, however.  Grammar schools, for instance, have been some of the greatest engines of social mobility this country has ever seen.  Oxbridge, even more so.

So Country Life is not just a downstairs cloakroom jolly full of gilded Grade I mansions, horses and adverts for antiques merchants.  Sometimes it gets political, yet refreshingly non-partisan (there is no mention in the article of any political party.

Fine, nobody really reads it.  Not compared to the 'quality' broadsheets or the populist tabloids.  But every once in a while, you really should.  What is the secret?  Plain common sense.

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