28 October 2013

The Oxford Incumbency

In the FT Weekend Magazine of 26/27 October, its editor, Simon Kuper, indulges in a trip down memory lane in the form of My return to Oxford, 25 years on, with the theme:
The Oxford I knew – shot through with sexual harassment, racism, dilettantism and sherry – has been replaced by something quite professional and money-conscious.
He tells his readers:
It wasn’t very hard to get into Oxford in my day, as almost all students – whether from private or state schools – were drawn from the small British upper and upper-middle class. Moreover, most were men.
Once you’d got in, little effort was expected. … Often an entire week’s workload consisted of writing one shortish essay (good preparation for being a columnist). Some of my essays were so shoddy that when I reread them before my final exams, I almost wrote to my old tutors to apologise. Many tutors didn’t care anyway. … A tutor in my college was known for exposing himself to some students, and trying to recruit others to the intelligence services. Another harassed so many female students that finally action was taken: he was banned from tutoring women one-on-one. Political correctness was not rampant then.
He justifies this remembrance of things past by pointing out that:
All this might seem like ancient history, except that many of today’s British politicians – David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Michael Gove, George Osborne – were Oxford contemporaries or near-contemporaries of mine.
(although not, apparently, Boris Johnson, subject of the cover story on the FT Weekend Magazine a month earlier – but see Note 4 below) despite the fact that:
Oxford had educated Thatcher (and most other recent British prime ministers) and yet it felt apolitical.
The table below supports the statistical element of this remark:

Some interesting points:
  • In 16 of the 18 general elections since 1945, the winning Prime Minister was educated at Oxford.
  • Of the 10 PMs elected since 1945, eight went to Oxford.  Of all 13 PMs since the war, nine went to Oxford. 
  • On only one occasion, 1951, did an Oxford-educated incumbent, Clement Attlee, lose to a non-Oxford person –the “Former Naval Person”, Winston Churchill. 
  • In only one election, 1992, had neither candidate been to Oxford. 
In 2015, it seems highly likely that two Oxford graduates will be in contention for the Prime Ministership: David Cameron as incumbent and Ed Miliband. This has been the case in eight elections since 1945, in six of which the incumbent remained in office (which would be 2015A). The two precedents for Miliband’s becoming PM (2015B) are Edward Heath displacing Harold Wilson in 1970 and Wilson displacing Alec Douglas-Hume in 1964. Miliband’s winning is not impossible, of course, but the second of these precedents is not particularly encouraging, Cameron being a far more credible incumbent than Douglas-Hume.

(1) Harold Macmillan did not graduate from Oxford, his studies having been interrupted by war service.
(2) Known as University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire in Neil Kinnock’s time there.
(3) Cameron, a Conservative, has been leading a coalition since 2010.
(4) Osborne and Miliband graduated in 1992, Cameron and Gove in 1988 and Johnson in 1987; Kuper circa 1991.


If you found this post interesting, you might like:
Ages at the Audience
Top Politicians: Birth Order and Handedness

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