Yesterday evening, I was sitting at home and browsing through Facebook. Suddenly, various online friends were howling in disbelief at something on BBC2. Out of curiosity, I flicked on the TV, and was greeted by an edifice clearly designed to make you lose all faith in party politics, and possibly also common humanity.
Young, Bright and on the Right follows Joe and Chris, two Conservative Party members at Oxford and Cambridge respectively. Chris is an engagingly geekish sort. An ex-comprehensive schoolboy with Lib Dem parents who seem pleasantly bemused by his zeal for conservatism. At one point they ask him what the appeal is, and he admits that he enjoys getting to “pretend to be a member of the upper classes”. He gets inordinately excited at the prospect of being allowed to make a comment in a student debate, or to serve on a committee that nobody else could be bothered to apply for.
Joe, on the other hand, is a self-confessed schemer who openly revels in the skullduggery and manouevring among the leadership of Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA). He has a Margaret Thatcher screen-saver, and meets with his fellow stuffed-shirts over a cream tea for pleasant afternoons plotting whose back to plunge a knife into.
What’s notably absent, apart from chins, is the sound of anyone in the show saying, “I’m interested in politics because I really want to help the people in my community”. This is basically a game to these little squirts. Sort of like LARPing, except with the possibility of starting a war or screwing up the NHS.
Halfway through the show, Joe gets in a bit of a tizzy with the leadership of OUCA (I forget why: too trivial to care) and decides to shaft the lot of them by leaking footage of their members getting drunk and singing anti-semitic songs. It makes the Daily Telegraph, and he gets to revel in his glee. Along the way, he breaks down and admits that behind his cultivated Bertie Wooster exterior, he’s the son of a convict and was entitled to free school meals as a kid. The whiff of self-loathing hangs in the air.
Meanwhile, Chris has taken a break from drinking “conservative cocktails” (which look suspiciously like Blue WKD) to get himself “elected” onto a committee, or more accurately appointed since nobody else has stood for election. Possibly because they realised that there are far more enjoyable and productive ways to spend your time at university. Chris takes the same glee from organising biscuits that Joe takes from shafting his rivals. “Biscuit sourcing is actually quite a responsible position”, he enthuses. There’s a likeable naivity to him, which make me rather relieved that he and Joe are at separate universities. Joe would probably put arsenic in his biscuits.
A while back I wrote an account of my time in the Labour Party, and made the following observations.
As I experienced the rather sad spectacle that the Labour Party had become, it quickly dawned on me how the Blairite careerists had come to prosper. There was no conspiracy to take over. It’s just that…well, who else would actually find this sort of thing a worthwhile use of their time and effort? You need to be an odd sort of a creature to find modern party politics enjoyable and rewarding…Political parties used to be mass movements with roots in local communities. Now they’re small cliques of PR types and policy wonks who real humans tend to find a bit strange.
This documentary shows exactly how these bizarre creatures emerge into the likes of George Osborne and William Hague. The student political associations do a thorough job of weeding out anybody who might actually have a soul.
As Chris cycles away, revelling in his committee non-job, he makes the first insightful comment I’ve heard anyone say during the show. “I don’t think any of us at the age of 19 is fitted to proper power”. What? Is there some self-awareness creeping in here? Sure enough, we learn at the end that, “Chris has decided to focus on his studies rather than university politics”. Another being is brought back to the light, and angels rejoice at his salvation.
What about Joe? Has he been redeemed too? For a simple answer, here’s his Twitter profile.
Incidentally, while writing this review, I came across this puff-piece preview, written by an American friend of Joe’s.
I feel for Joe. It’s not fair that he’s judged on his background, or accent, or education prior to attending Oxford. He should be judged only on his character and his personal talents.
Yes, I rather think he will.
Nuke them from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.