qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

The Pax Man Cometh

Book Review: Friends in High Places - Who runs Britain?, by Jeremy Paxman
I read this book when it first came out, over 20 years ago. It's a distant memory but I don't think I was all that impressed. Nevertheless I kept it and it seemed like a good time to pick it up and give it another go. On this reading I felt it was rather better, although it is also interesting to note how it has dated. For example, the first chapter is on the Lords, and at least some significant reforms have taken place in that area since the book was published in 1990. Curiously Paxman said that no-one would put up a fight over getting rid of the bishops in the House of Lords - that turned out differently. Yet in other areas - on the influence of public schools, for example - I have the feeling that very little has changed.

Subsequent chapters deal with themes such as the Civil Service, Oxbridge, the military, the City, arts and journalism. A theme emerges that, although there may have been modest reforms in the 1960s and 1970s, the Thatcher years inflicted a Cultural Revolution on the Establishment, tearing up convention and replacing "the Great and the Good" with those who were "One Of Us"; yet still the Establishment stubbornly resisted and survived at least in some areas. Paxman doesn't seem to be able to argue consistently whether or not this was a good thing. Frequently he argues that staid opinions and procedures, perpetuated by the establishment's Social Network, devalued Britain through a lack of commercial awareness in a changing world, but there is a counter-argument that balance and long-termism were also discarded to be replaced with partisanship and ends-justifying means.
Tags: books, history, politics
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