1 October 2012

Red Princes and Princesses

The strange death in China last year of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, the arrest and trial of Gu Kailai for his murder, and now the disgrace of her husband Bo Xilai, have probably made people in the UK more aware of the dynastic nature of the Chinese Communist Party. In the US, China is analysed closely, and anyone looking to learn more about the ‘princelings’ should find Jeremy Page’s 2011 article in the Wall Street Journal informative. The WSJ interactive graphic shows Bo Xilai’s antecedents and also the elite positions now occupied by other children of Mao Zedong’s comrades.

Once a concept like princelings is established it travels and then gets transferred. The UK political blogger Guido Fawkes ran stories last month about Will Straw (son of Jack) “spending time in the Lancashire seat of Rossendale and Darwen” and Euan Blair (son of Tony and Cherie) apparently being interested in selection for the Labour seat of Coventry North West. But he was able to cap this shortly afterwards with news that Joe Dromey (son of Jack and Harriet née Harman) was “devoting a lot of time to work in the safe Labour seat of Lewisham Deptford”. This story was run under the headline The Red Princes: Third Dromey Trying to Get on the Gravy Train (left).

The Labour Party’s annual conference began at the end of September , so good timing for Guido and not surprising that Toby Young in the Sun on Sunday on 30 September came out with:
In case you’re in any doubt that Labour is the true party of inherited privilege, I give you the Wedgwood Benn dynasty. Tony Benn, that old socialist warhorse, was the son of Viscount Stansgate, a Labour Secretary of State, and his son, Hilary Benn, went on to serve in Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s Cabinet. The latest addition to this fine, aristocratic line is Emily Benn, Tony’s granddaughter, who was selected to stand as the Labour candidate in East Worthing and Shoreham in 2007. To cap it all, this was when she was 17, before she was old enough to vote!
More accurately, although selected at 17, Emily Benn was old enough to vote by the time of the 2010 election in which she came third, behind the LibDems, and the Tory, Tim Loughton, who increased his majority.

Although Guido has, so far, only picked on our ‘Red Princes’, their Chinese analogues include Princesses, as Damien Ma reported in the Atlantic last year in Meet the Red Princesses and Princes: The Chinese Elite's Globe-Trotting Kids. No doubt some Red Princesses will be surfacing here before long – the Blairs have a daughter as well as another son, Nicky. And before the last election, Georgia Gould, daughter of the late Philip Gould, was reported to be interested in the Labour selection for Erith and Thamesmead shortly after graduation. According to the Daily Mail she had taken over as Chair of the Oxford University Labour Club from none other than Nicky Blair!

Of course, political dynasties are not uncommon among the Conservatives either, perhaps not quite so intertwined, but we can expect the Daily Mail and Guido to give them a miss. Damien Ma put his finger on something relevant though, when he concluded:
It is far from clear whether any of them [the Red Princesses and Princes] will have political aspirations in the future, and if they do, whether their experiences will decisively shape their world views. The average Chinese -- actually, average anybody -- would struggle to identify with what they represent or to determine whether they will be forces for change or stasis in China over the next decades.
Our political class certainly isn’t short of people from the PPE/researcher/adviser mould now.  Their clone-like offspring are likely to be at two removes from reality rather than one. In the 2020s, when they are all at each other’s throats as were their parents in the last decade, it should make for lively political reporting, if not good government. Let’s hope Leveson doesn’t stifle the Guidos before then. I would put my money on Straw Jr, who was accepted into the civil service fast-stream, no mean feat, and is at least prepared to take on a currently Tory-held seat rather than a safe Labour one, and also bet on Nicky Blair of whom we hear little - but remember the significance in British politics of birth order!

Of course, a reasonable conclusion is that there can’t be that many good graduate jobs around, if all that these wealthy and well-connected kids can aspire to is Parliament. Also, perhaps being an MP with a safe seat is far more congenial, by comparison with most paid work, than many of us plebs realise or the current incumbents care to let on. But the princes in particular should take heed of ‘famous father syndrome’ which can easily afflict those who follow in parental footsteps. One of the best-known sufferers was Randolph Churchill. When it became known that his surgically-excised growth was benign, Evelyn Waugh famously remarked that "It was a typical triumph of modern science to find the one part of Randolph which was not malignant and to remove it."


In his Guardian Labour Conference Diary Michael White reported for 1 October:

Tony Blair's former press chief Alastair Campbell is "thinking about" standing for election at the next general election, he revealed yesterday. Asked on LBC radio whether he had ambitions to become an MP, he said: "All I'll say to you is I get a lot of people asking me, particularly when I'm up here, and I do think about it and I am thinking about it and I don't think there's a fantastic rush. We sort of know when the next election is."

Which constituency Campbell has in mind has not been reported yet.  He has two potential princes and one princess, and a partner, Fiona Millar, who was rumoured to be interested in taking over Glenda Jackson's seat

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