Oxbridge w*nkers have ruined the media like they ruin everything else

I should know I am (largely accidentally) one of them.

The author — that’s me — (centre) on graduation day, 2002

Do you want to hear something stupid?

You must do; you’re reading this newsletter, so here we go. You can’t claim I didn’t warn you. I often feel guilty about my education. I went to Thetford Grammar School followed by Homerton College, Cambridge.

Now, the first one I didn’t choose, but I’m glad my parents did. They both attended state school, with parents whose jobs included housewife, ‘wheeler-dealer’, police officer, and translator’s assistant. My parents themselves were first in the Royal Navy then became medical sales reps then a canine behaviourist and counsellor. I am very proud of them.

While I was bullied quite relentlessly from age 11 to about 15, I received a fine education from teachers who varied from inspiring (Mrs Waddington, English and Mr Seymour, History) to downright emotionally abusive (Mr Cook, Design Technology and Mr Campbell, Maths & Deputy Head). The second one, I did choose to an extent. Mr Seymour, himself an Oxford graduate, told me I was capable of going to Oxford or Cambridge. He was hoping I’d choose the former but I chose the latter as it was closer to home and I had visited the city before.

I attended Homerton for two reasons: It had a course — Education Studies (Route 1) with Drama and English — effectively the study of the philosophy, psychology, history and sociology of education systems, combined with acting and flouncing about reading books — that was not available from any other college at that point. Homerton was also just incorporated into the university as a full college, had 95% women in my year, and was basically a rebellious outlier. It’s now a corporatist, fit-in, try-hard place, but back then (2002!) it still retained a kind of puckish, punkish spite (“We are Homerton! No one likes us, we don’t care…” went the sports chant).

Why do I feel guilt about my education? Because without caveats that I spit out every time — my parents spent 2/3rds of their income sending me to private school because my local high school was in special measures for my entire childhood and no one in the history of my family had been to university at all let alone Cambridge — it reads like the classic pattern of someone in the media: selective school followed by Oxbridge. I feel like a slight outlier because my Cambridge education did not open a door to working at a big publication straight out of the gate. I had to work my way up because I did not have the cash to spend time interning for free at The Guardian, GQ or some other publication beginning with G. Instead, I was lucky to secure a job at Pensions World, a trade magazine that gave me my apprenticeship in the fundamentals of journalism — interviewing, proofing, negotiating with designers, and surviving off free canapes and alcohol.

‘Working’ at Stuff Magazine, 2006 (Photo: Tony Horgan)

Private-educated people, Oxbridge-educated people and university-educated people are a scourge on journalism, like a plague of locusts that has descended over the past forty years to pick the profession clean. 7% of the population is privately educated, but a 2019 study by social mobility charity The Sutton Trust found that 43 per cent of the UK’s 100 most influential editors and broadcasters, as per its News Media 100 list, went to private school. That’s an 11 per cent drop from 2014 but still vastly out of proportion. Among columnists — the worst of UK journalism in terms of disconnected moralising bullshit — 44% were privately educated.

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Where once MPs represented a mixture of the population — Labour and Conservatives alike bringing in many ex-soldiers, the Tories generally bringing in professionals and landowners, Labour lifting up trade unionists, shop stewards, people from hard physical trades like coal mining, and a broad range of people from across the social spectrum. Now more than a third of MPs were educated privately, many of them going straight from university politics into special advisor jobs and then swiftly onto selection lists and finally into Parliament. Our politicians are not representative of our communities and, with their narrow perspective, have much in common with the blinkered, narrow-minded majority of our media.

This is why I say Oxbridge wankers have ruined the media and everything else. They drag their friendships and feuds from college into the ‘real’ world, pursuing the shagging, backstabbing, and backbiting that defines their university years into the way they do journalism and politics. It’s an incestuous world which has little to do with many of the people and places they purport to be able to write about and, in some cases, represent. Someone will, at this point, email me or tweet me to say ‘But you’ve not linked to any examples.” Google it, FFS. I assume if you’re reading this you are quite intelligent enough to take a view on the current media environment and decide if I’m right. I don’t have to do free publicity for columnists that I largely hate.

A dickhead, his bear, and his pals (Jesus Mayball 2005)

Twenty prime ministers so far have been schooled at Eton College, of whom nine were educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. That is not the sign of a healthy society. It is an indicator of a country whose establishment has such a chokehold on democracy that the concept has become laughable. Choose red or blue, whoever gets into power will undoubtedly consider themselves better than you.