Person of the Year 2011
The person of the year is a political composite: the Mili·Cleg·Eron is a well-schooled, Oxbridge-educated, London-centric, white, married, heterosexual, 40-something male.
The Mili·Cleg·Eron has never depended on benefits, earned minimum wage, or lived in council housing.
The Mili·Cleg·Eron has never run a business, worked in a hospital, walked the beat, taught in a school, served in the military, or laboured in agriculture, manufacturing, or construction.
The Mili·Cleg·Eron has, however, toiled at the coalface of journalism, PR, and research before segueing into office. Confident, polished, dark-suited, managerial (not ideological), and urban (not urbane) – the Mili·Cleg·Eron is now running Britain, and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future.
The Mili·Cleg·Eron represents a range of individuals: David Cameron, Nick Clegg, much of the Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet, and 4 out of 5 of Labour’s leadership candidates – 2 of whom are Milibands. (The fifth candidate, Diane Abbot, her gender and ethnicity aside, still fits much of the bill.)
In 2010, the long-observed ‘disconnect’ between MPs and voters was stretched ever wider. A range of issues urgent to voters (not least immigration) is disdained by the political class – as Brown’s accidental ‘bigotgate’ candour showed – making promises of a ‘national conversation’ about the ‘big society’ even more tenuous. Fearful of this gulf, the Mili·Cleg·Eron repeats the empty phrase ‘what I hear on the doorstep’, and stages photo-shoots doing ‘normal’ things, like watching football on TV.
The Mili·Cleg·Eron’s rise has revivified Britain’s obsession with class. Labelling both Cameron and Clegg ‘posh’, commentators attempted to parse exactly how posh each was. (According to Ben Macintyre, Cameron is ‘Eton-Oxford-country-clubby-cutglass-shooting party sort of posh’ whereas Clegg is ‘Westminster-Cambridge-metropolitan-foreign-glottalstop-trustfund sort of posh’.)
Cameron’s description of himself as one of the ‘sharp-elbowed middle classes’ amused some, to whom being a millionaire Old Etonian married to an aristocrat hinted at certain upper-class credentials. To others, the ‘sharp-elbowed’ element rang true, reflecting a view that politicians are on the make – either by maximising their expenses, or by monetising their experiences (to the tune of millions in the case of Tony Blair).
As the Mili·Cleg·Eron took office, Labour’s old guard took to the airwaves to plug memoirs in which they came (almost) clean about the feuds they had spent years vehemently denying. Inside Westminster, such duplicity is part of the game; outside, it reinforces the belief that politicians just don’t ‘get it’.
One could argue that the Mili·Cleg·Eron’s ascendancy is temporary and that (like the Con-Lib coalition) it will falter if the economy struggles and the cuts bite. Or, it could be that Britain is coming to terms with a new political elite, described by Michael Woolf as ‘the post-class upper class’.
In 1973, Margaret Thatcher famously erred when she said, ‘I don’t think there will be a woman prime minister in my lifetime’. But for everything that has changed in Britain in the intervening 37 years, it is notable that the dominance of the Mili·Cleg·Eron means that a female, ethnic-minority, gay, or proudly working-class prime minister seems as unlikely now as then.