|1992 and all that|
This picture was taken on 16th September 1992. That is the day that subsequently became known as "Black Wednesday" when sterling came crashing out the Exchange Rate Mechanism. It features then Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont explaining to the massed ranks of the media what had just happened regarding sterling.
But the reason why this picture has become more historic in recent years is because of who is lurking in the background. It is a fresh faced, 25 year old David Cameron (the one who looks a bit like he doesn't know where to put himself).
He was a special adviser to Lamont at that time which is why he is hovering there like a ghost at the feast.
Ever since Cameron's rise to prominence as Tory leader in 2005 I have found this picture quite fascinating for what it tells us about how modern politics works. As it has turned out, on the worst day of his career, Lamont happened to be standing next to the man who would end up being the very next Conservative Prime Minister after John Major. And yet at that point, that man was not even a Member of Parliament. In fact he wouldn't become one for nearly another nine years.
Of course some of that coincidence is down to the fact that the Tories were out of power after 1997 for a long time. If they'd got back in in say 2002 it would have been a different story. But if we think about the odds against the very next Conservative PM happening to be with the Chancellor on the darkest economic day for at least a generation (at that point) we start to see how strange that is if our politics is properly meritocratic.
If we start with an assumption that it is let's just look how unlikely what that picture tells us actually is. At any one time, there are around 40 million people in this country who are eligible to become Prime Minister. Let's say (being generous) that half of them have a conservative leaning and hence might at least agree with the party politically. If we had known on that day that the next Tory PM would be elected in 18 years time it could pretty much have been any of those people (or their demographic equivalents 18 years hence).
But it wasn't any of them. It was the man standing next to the Chancellor.
Our politics isn't very meritocratic. A fair few MPs get their seats because of who they know. Cameron followed a familiar path which was PPE at Oxbridge (or other high calibre university), special adviser, short period in private industry followed by selection for a safe seat for the 2001 election. From there he impressed his parliamentary colleagues (of course he knew the ropes well given his history) and by 2005 was Leader of the Opposition.
It is a well trodden route and once you understand how the political parties groom these bright young things and smooth the way for them into parliament and up the greasy pole, far from being surprising that Cameron ended up leader and PM it starts to look almost inevitable that him or one of his kind was quite likely to make it there. It is no coincidence that George Osborne also took a similar route to the top.
But the Tories have always been like this haven't they? Words in ears about "good chaps"? Funny handshakes etc.? We'd expect better from Labour wouldn't we?
|1997 and all that|