“If one’s sole object in life were to make as much money as possible, a university education would clearly be a waste of time.” The words not of Sir Richard Branson, Sir Alan Sugar or any other billionaire school dropout but of the Eton, Cambridge and Harvard-educated, PhD-wielding Kwasi Kwarteng.
The man appointed the 109th Chancellor of the Exchequer had been considered a rising star well before he entered Parliament and first made his name at the age of 22 with a column in The Telegraph.
From higher education to the rise of “lad mags”, Mr Kwarteng left a trail of published evidence showing his youthful thinking on the state of Britain.
According to Mr Kwarteng, universities were not just a waste of time for those hoping to make lots of money but “a trick of the mind”. They offered value of a sort as “a place for reflective thought, like the monasteries of the Middle Ages,” but were only really popular as a way of proving one’s smarts.
“People go to university not to become learned, but to give an impression. In today’s climate, it’s no use telling an employer that one is eminently qualified for a job without some proof, some scrap of paper which conveys a magical authority.”
While universities might be conducive to research, on the whole, Mr Kwarteng thought, “the university added little to the talent which was already in them”.
For that reason, the MP for Spelthorne thought it “ridiculous” that everyone should go to university.
No experts, thank you
Kwarteng’s scepticism of higher education is not the only position that Tory MPs might consider ahead of their time. As early as August of 1997, the young Mr Kwarteng was declaring his deep scepticism of experts.
Responding to a “wake-up call” from Age Concern that the thirtysomethings of the era were not saving enough for their old age, Mr Kwarteng launched into a spikey attack on “self-appointed” expertise.
“We live in the age of the expert,” he declared, “of course, all these experts are invariably self-appointed, and they all contradict each other.”
Mr Kwarteng lamented the loss of Western “reason and objective investigation” and said that the witchdoctors of “simple peoples” had been “reincarnated in a modern, Western, suit-wearing capacity.
“They are the consultants, health gurus, constitutional experts, psychologists and sociologists who seem to spring from the ground at every opportunity.”
On at least one issue, however, Mr Kwarteng has clearly come to accept the views of the experts. In his column, he highlighted global warming as an example of “conjecture” dressed up as “granite fact”. As Business Secretary, he has declared it essential for governments to intervene to tackle climate change.
Changing society and tradition
Much of the future MP’s writing focused on Britain’s shifting social and cultural attitudes. In one of his earliest columns, Mr Kwarteng dismissed attacks on the Army for being too stilted and class-ridden.
There might be lots of public school boys in the Army, he wrote, but “the brutal truth is that the traditional public school … is the ideal training ground for military life”.
The wider public’s disinterest in joining the military was not the Army’s fault, claimed Mr Kwarteng, but that of a softening public.
Square-bashing, physical exercise and “blind acceptance of orders is simply unappealing to today’s youth,” felt Mr Kwarteng. “Military virtues such as discipline and obedience are deeply unfashionable.”
While the Army might have been struggling for popularity in the late Nineties, so-called lads’ mags, full of scantily dressed women and fast cars were all the rage.
For Mr Kwarteng, the rise of FHM, Nuts and Loaded symbolised democratisation and a coarsening of national culture.
Britain had become so wealthy that the “common man” was now dictating national tastes, he thought.
Taste, he said, was undemocratic in its elite connotations and now that young men were not busy at the working men’s institute taking educational courses, they were using their leisure time to shape the national culture.
“Vulgarity, in the sense of the lowest common denominator, is the necessary outcome [of that process]”.
Nevertheless, Mr Kwarteng was not a defender of high culture himself. In another column, he argued that teaching poetry to schoolchildren was a waste of time that would be better spent drilling them on spelling and grammar.
More than a decade before he would enter Parliament, Mr Kwarteng was full of advice for his future employers.
In language that might make one question why he never spoke out against Boris Johnson, Mr Kwarteng excoriated his party for failing to clear up sleaze in the terminal years of the Major government.
The Conservatives were still perfectly capable administrators, he claimed, but were let down by “weak leadership”.
“Men who were clearly an embarrassment to the party should have been sacked. And yet they were retained and seemed to think, like some children at school, that their crimes would never be discovered. ‘But these things’ as one of my schoolmasters used to say, ‘have a funny way of catching up with you’.”
It was “blindingly obvious to any child over the age of eight”, Mr Kwarteng claimed that “you should always own up when caught in a compromising position”.
Elsewhere, however, Mr Kwarteng was adamant not only that politicians needed thicker skins but that Parliament needed more members willing to throw about crass insults.
“Our greatest politicians have been consummate in the art of abuse,” he said, adding “democratic politics feeds on personal abuse”.
As for who should become a politician, Mr Kwarteng had no truck with those who decried the rise of the professional politician.
“The belief that a businessman’s skills are immediately transferable to the political arena is absurd,” he wrote.
While Mr Kwarteng himself spent time as a banker, he argued that “politics is a discrete branch of human activity, it doesn’t strictly require an apprenticeship in another field”.
Having authored Ghosts of Empire, a book that is highly critical of the British Empire, Mr Kwarteng is no apologist for colonialism. However, in his columns, he turned his fire on proponents of multiculturalism and political correctness.
Reacting to the appointment of a black woman to the Prince of Wales’s senior staff, he attacked those who celebrated for being “patronising”. It showed that Britain had forgotten its former global connections, resulting in a “parochialism coupled with an ignorance of British history” which would result, he warned, “in the eventual dissolution [of the UK]”.
And when Saudi Arabia planned to execute one British nurse and lash another over a murder, Mr Kwarteng hit out at proponents of multiculturalism who so quickly changed their tune to denounce Islam.
“It is simply a fraud to embrace ‘multiculturalism’ at one moment and, at the next, to condemn as ‘unacceptable’ a sentence passed by due judicial process in another sovereign state,” he wrote.
Source: Daniel Capurro | Telegraph.co.uk