In 2000, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, accused Magdalen College, Oxford, of class bias in failing to admit a student called Laura Spence, a pupil at a Tyneside comprehensive. This was grossly unfair — how could the Chancellor know the details of a particular case? It was also outrageous in principle: why should a politician tell a university whom to admit?
This Sunday, David Cameron did much the same thing. In the middle of his EU negotiations, the migrant crisis and the other genuinely important things the Prime Minister must deal with, he found time to offer an article to the Sunday Times, headlined ‘Watch out, universities; I’m bringing the fight for equality to you’. He attacked his own university, Oxford, for admitting only 27 black men and women in 2014, and said he wants to legislate ‘to place a new transparency duty on universities to publish data routinely about the people who apply to their institution… and who gets offered a place.’ This ‘will include a full breakdown of their gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic background’.
Why? Why does a Conservative Prime Minister want, like apartheid South Africa, to classify people according to race, and, like a state socialist, to engineer the composition of free institutions? Why does he, who benefited so much from Oxford, unjustly insult it? Why does he question the motives of one of the few British institutions which the world still recognises as outstanding? What is the cultural rottenness, the mental cowardice which leads this well-educated, moderate man to assail the glories of his own country? Almost nothing depresses me more than this weird urge to foment a cultural civil war which no one needs.
This is an extract from Charles Moore’s Notes, available in this week’s issue of The Spectator.