The Greasy Pole column from the March 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
The relationship between Ministers of the Crown and the civil servants who are employed to carry out their wishes has often been a matter of agonising delicacy. For example there was a minister in a Blair government who was faced with a crisis in the NHS while one of his top officials had been hiding about a thousand unanswered parliamentary questions while coming into the office at weekends to falsify the figures on the matter. As one minister put it: ‘Everyone thinks they are white knights and that we are the villains whereas the truth, which we all know, is that many officials are useless’. But then there was the Labour minister who was more concerned about the size and temperature of his morning coffee than about any of the vital matters preoccupying his office. Distinct from this, at present there is the Home Office, absorbed in such sensitive issues as crime and immigration, which manages to work in a more relaxed and considerate style. In charge there is the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, who comes from a family of wealthy financiers, which did not prevent her in 2008 winning a poetry prize in her constituency local paper which included the lines: ‘Loving you is so exciting. But why dear heart, did you not mention, What we’ll do for contraception?’ Rudd was recently said to be in a relationship with Kwasi Kwarteng, the Tory MP for Spelthorne and Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but this was not officially assessed as damaging in the same way as the recent cases of what became known as ‘inappropriate behaviour’ among politicians.
So far there is no record of any poetry being written about Kwarteng. His parents were students who came from Ghana in the 1960s and he was born in London. When he was eight he was placed in an expensive private boarding school – which he said he ‘loved’– and from which he blossomed into a King’s Scholar at that emphatically costly breeding place for the aristocracy, Eton College. A fellow student there described the place as ‘a competitive intellectual hothouse…but everyone said that probably the greatest brain of the lot was the guy with that extraordinary name’. It became something of their history at Eton that when Kwarteng was later being interviewed for a place at Trinity College, Cambridge, he was so graciously confident of the outcome that he could reassure the nervous young tutor not to worry about his clumsy handling of the matter because ‘you did fine sir…’A memory which must have endured for him – for example when he was a member of the Trinity College team in the TV programme University Challenge and he was broadcast referring to a memory lapse by blurting out ‘Oh fuck, I’ve forgotten!’. Which provoked a flood of complaints, typically in a piece called Rudiversity Challenge in, of all places, Page Three of The Sun. The entire episode took on a rather different reputation when the Trinity College team ended up as National Quiz Champions which contributed to Kwarteng sprouting a reputation as an exceedingly brainy performer but also as an extremely charming one. He began to work as what is known as a financial analyst which, as the various crises typical of capitalism flooded around and across the world, provided hopefuls such as Kwarteng with opportunities to venture into journalism and authorship.
A succession of books and other material were published in his name or as a contributor. This was all very satisfying for him except that his views on what was happening, and why, did not reveal any original thinking about remedies or even original versions of the problems. In Thatcher’s Trial: Six Months That Defined A Leader he varies between denouncing her government’s 1981 Budget as designed 'to produce three million unemployed’ and lauding her as a leader who ‘. . . fought passionately for absolute values in a world which seemed diffident and uncertain of purpose’. One of the sour fruits of his co-authorship was a diagnosis that ‘Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world’. As an enthusiastic economic ‘dry’ in his tome Gridlock Britain he defines himself (as a member of the Transport Select Committee) with a belief in the effects of working markets, and demands road pricing as against tax-funded free roads which he rejects as part of his version of a moribund ‘socialism’.
So it was that Kwarteng came to explore the possibilities of using his talents in party politics, by offering himself as an electable representative of some parliamentary constituency. The first of these was Brent East. This was an ethnically diverse, busy area of London which was held stolidly from 1974 to 1987 by Labour’s Reg Freeson and then, when Freeson died, by the unsettling Ken Livingstone. The next Member in Brent – Paul Daisley – died in 2003 which resulted in a by-election from which there emerged as winner the Liberal Democrat Sarah Teather, who was able to benefit from the stress and anger of the reaction to the attack on Iraq, which continues to roll on. Kwarteng was third at the bottom of the poll, which did not deter him from turning his attention elsewhere, to the constituency of Spelthorne which lies near the airport at Heathrow. Additionally attractive to him was the fact that in the 2016 Referendum Spelthorne was emphatically in favour of Brexit.
He was selected to stand for the Conservative Party and won with a majority of 10,019, which was increased with each successive election until it reached 13,425 in 2017. By then it seemed appropriate to the Tories that they might recognise the talents of this persistent wrangler and Kwarteng was made the PPS for the nationally prominent (but, unlike Kwarteng, anti-Brexit) Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, where his practised skills in trying to ignore the inhuman ravages of capitalism were busily engaged. Meanwhile the Tories seem to be relieved that his relationship with Amber Rudd should be accepted as ‘workplace’ – which at least distinguishes it from those previous embarrassments among their parliamentary colleagues. Although what the burdened Honourable Home Secretary thinks about him being known as the ‘British Obama’ has not been revealed. The government of capitalism comes in many shapes and sizes but with the unvarying object of protecting the interests of their ruling class through imposing and managing the repression and exploitation of the subject class.