The following is a piece I first posted on this blog back in March of this year under the heading "IT'S TOUGH AT THE TOP BUT IT'S A DAMN SIGHT TOUGHER AT THE BOTTOM."

I am not suggesting for one moment that those who end up with the top jobs in my country, who come from privileged backgrounds, are not qualified for the posts they hold. The injustice is this, the greasy poles of the various hierarchies of my society are far, far greasier at the bottom than they are at the top. Therefore, people who are already half way up the pole because of the accidental privileges of their parentage, have an incredible advantage over those people, who are equally qualified, but whose parents couldn't afford to send them to a posh school or who had been born on the wrong side of the British class system tracks.

However, the privileged who attain high office do have a problem, especially if they have a normal human conscience. They have to live with the fact that bolshie oiks like me will automatically assume they got their job because of who they know and who they went to school with. That must be both frustrating and annoying for those private school / Oxbridge educated occupiers of high office who actually worked hard and deserve their position.

A lot of rich and powerful people are either devoid of empathy for those they rule it over or have justified their privilege to themselves in such a way that makes it bearable. But that can't be true for all of them. It is obvious from prime minister, David Cameron's attempts to be seen as "of the people" that his background embarrasses him to some extent, and Bishop Justin Welby's enthusiasm to get his hands dirty preaching the good news in some really nasty places of extreme poverty, shows that he has tried to distance himself from the spoiled rich.

The question I am left asking is this: can people like David Cameron and Justin Welby ever escape the destiny of their position in our class system? Justin's rise through the church hierarchy has been meteoric by normal standards and I very much doubt that this was due to his own politicking or playing the old school tie card. It is my guess that it had a lot to do with the expectations of those around him with the authority to offer him preferment. I don't think the English have ever got over their medieval deference to the fighting estate and the lords of the manor. The Bishop of Durham went to Eton and was something big in the oil industry, therefore, he is an obvious choice to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury. There is nothing we can do about that, it's the way things are. I suggest that there is nothing Justin can do about it either.

Some are born great; the rest of us have to knife our colleagues in the back and have the Machiavellian indifference to other human beings of Vlad the Impaler, in order to achieve the same greatness.



  1. Hmm. The logic of this piece would seem to indicate that you would then have been a fan of Archbishop George Carey, who grew up as a working class kid like you and me. However, I’m guessing that’s not the case!!!

    • That would be personalising it, Tim. I’m on about the system. I’m not saying people who went to Eton should not get top jobs. I’m saying that it should be just as easy for everybody else, if equally qualified, to get top jobs. I am sure Justin Welby would agree with me although he’s not quite man enough to turn the job down on principle. But then he will have been brainwashed at Eton into believing that he was going to be a leader.

  2. So O. K., I’ll play Devil’s Advocate here, partly because of your post, but also to express myself clearly.
    Bishop Welby was born to a well-to-do family. He received a good education and went into the world and apparently had a useful career wherein he accomplished quite a bit. he did not just sit around and clip coupons and do drugs with the arty set or whoever. In this process he probably learned quite a bit about business, people, administration and making the wheels go ’round. Without that background, he probably would not have had such experiences or it would have taken a lot longer to get that in-the-world education. From the beginning, he had a choice: go up, hang around being useless, or worse, go down. He chose to make himself useful and in that process, further educated himself in leadership in ways that can’t be garnered in a classroom no matter how privileged

    So now, here he is, leaving a position of power to bring his expertise and experience to the C of E and God knows, the C of E is badly in need of expertise in administration, education, and someone who knows how to make things work. And already the passive Aggressive clamor is beginning and whatever positive things he manages to accomplish will be downplayed because he was born into wealth.

    My husband was a salesman. When my children were very small, he was transferred to another state and there he got a chance to rent a big old Victorian house that had been bought by one of his customers for a song because it needed renovation. The first winter in this close-knit northern N.E. town was a nightmare for me as my husband had a large territory and was often away for 2 or 3 days at a time and I didn’t drive. That first winter we lived in 4 rooms on the first floor because upstairs wasn’t habitable. In the back of the house was a building that had been the stable for our house and was now a duplex. A family with kids lived there, not rich by any means. And boy, did I
    try to become acquainted with this young mother
    and boy, was I snubbed, deliberately and pointedly. But I persevered and at the end of that first year, she would say “hello” and chat a for a couple of minutes. Finally I got up the nerve to ask her why she had been so distant. With rage flashing across her face she said “You live in that big fancy house so we KNEW you wouldn’t want to associate with us”. I was completely flabbagasted, after a year of devastating loneliness and fear as the old house creaked as old houses do,this woman ENVIED ME!!

    Everything isn’t greener on the other side of the fence, every person born isn’t happy as a puppy at suppertime. Justin Welby is offering what he is and the gifts he has, let’s hope that he isn’t dragged off his saddle before he even gets seated properly.

    That’s all the rant for today, peac and out :>)

    • Actually, he’s not that good, Nij. I know of much better bishops. The things that make him a good businessman and evangelist make him a crap pastor. He seems to have zero understanding of the symbolic. Basically he’s a scientist. But he gets the job before other ordinary, flawed people because of the reasons I have listed above.

      But you are right about the grass not being greener. Justin was sent off to boarding school as a young child and farmed out to relatives during the holidays. Such a lack of parental love must have been very painful and it may well have contributed to his inability to accept offers of friendship, seeing all such offers as being manipulative (his word).

    • ‘Seeing all such offers as being manipulative’.

      Really? I don’t think you have knowledge of all offers of friendship he has received, do you?

      On Thinking Anglicans I read this comment from Pam Smith:

      I knew Justin when he was at Coventry Cathedral, all I can say from my perspective as a Reader at the time is he was very approachable, appreciated and understood lay ministry, not prone to publicising himself and his achievements, hard working and absolutely no sense of self importance, and a genuine attitude of servanthood.

      I pray that these qualities, and his very genuine faith, will enable him to deal with the difficult times ahead.

      Seems that to her he wasn’t such a crap pastor after all.

  3. Well, God be at his right hand and his left hand, because if he gets this job, he will be surrounded on all sides, day and night by people trying by every means legal and plenty of means illegal, to manipulate him. God willing he has the guts and know-how to do what’s needed to choose the right thing to do to strengthen the C of E.

    peace, nij

  4. I think being an Etonian is exactly the reason why he shouldn’t get the job. They appear to churn out people with little understanding of the real world and the higher up he was in an Oil company the even more likely this would then become. He may well have ‘visited’ many a poor place but I think you need to have worked a poor parish for a long time to understand the spectrum of problems. Fine for a CEO wholly inappropriate for an Archbishop and a Prime Minister.

  5. Can Blighty ever change? I don’t know. For a few hundred years now, the way to go has been to cross the Pond, make your millions, then you (or your offspring) buy a stately home from a penniless ponce. [Now, however, I regret that US social class structure is becoming more like the UK in terms social immobility]

  6. As an immigrant Saffer, the prevalence and absurdities of the English obsession with class are obvious.

    However, my objections to Cameron and his buddies is a simply one. I would not want to discriminate against anyone, and that includes not discriminating against the privileged. That is their own misfortune, which they cannot help.

    What I do object to, is that he surrounds himself with so many of the same kind, doing nothing to help him break out of his myopia.

    That is where Welby is so different.