“Brazenly elitist”: when soundbites go wrong?

Tomorrow’s Telegraph will lead with the news that David Cameron is to announce plans to make the selection of teachers more rigorous and increase the standard of grades required to train. It’s an appealing idea, but the soundbite he’s chosen to sell it isn’t.

Mr Cameron will promise a “brazenly elitist” approach, which brings up all the wrong associations for the former Etonian. The Conservative leader dislikes his background being used as an attack against him yet for some reason has chosen here to bring it up in the minds of those who hear his soundbite.

Of course it’s hugely unlikely that Team Cameron wouldn’t have thought of that. Perhaps this is their attempt to neutralise the term and give Tory elitism a new spin. Tory staffers will have been analysing the ’08 US election campaign in the run up to the general election later this year – Barack Obama suffered from being labelled elitist first by Hilary Clinton and then by Sarah Palin. This wasn’t because of his background but because he was keen to utilise as much academic opinion in formulating his policies, a stark contrast to the previous regime and something alien to those Americans concerned with God and guns, who perhaps would have preferred policy formulated on the basis of gut instinct not empirical data. Ivy League elitism is something the Tories would have no problem being associated with.

Yet elitism draws attention to the British elite, and given that we have a monarchy, our elite therefore isn’t that of the Ivy League and academic Ivory towers but of fox hunting, private school educated aristocrats. It’s odd that David Cameron would use the image, especially in relation to schools, and I don’t think it works. Do you?


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