Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Speaking up for my son and heir

On my birthday tomorrow I shall be just five years short of receiving a bus pass, and only 30 days away from the scheduled birth of my first child. His inheritance is therefore much on my mind.

To say that I never expected to breed would be an understatement worthy to rank alongside “Michael Martin wasn’t the best-ever Speaker of the House of Commons”. My traditional attitude mirrored that of Philip Larkin’s famous poem with the unprintable first line, that went on to the doleful pronouncement that “Man hands on misery to man.”

Defenders of Mr Martin always asserted that his detractors were motivated by snobbery, but my own objections had much more to do with his catastrophic inadequacy. That word “Speaker” in the job title should surely have been a bit of a clue that the ideal candidate is not completely inarticulate. I doubt that Mr Martin was even qualified to be a “The.”

To me, the most objectionable thing about the man was the frequently repeated story of how his “dream” was to hang on to the next election so that his son could inherit his safe Labour seat in Glasgow. How eighteenth century is that?

I also keep reading that it is Lord Mandelson’s ambition to become Foreign Secretary so that he can follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, Herbert Morrison. The Business Secretary, incidentally, made a little bit of history for me last week when he was introduced by a radio interviewer as “Peter Mandelson” and immediately insisted that he should be addressed as “Lord”. Every other peer I have met nudges people in the opposite direction. His attitude seems appropriately redolent of the last days of the Ancien Régime.

It should perhaps be no surprise that Conservative MP Nick Hurd is the fourth generation of his family to sit in the House of Commons; Tories were traditionally supposed to believe in that sort of thing. But Hilary Armstrong and Hilary Benn on the Labour benches have far more in common than their first name; they are both also the children of MPs. Labour turned to Gwyneth Dunwoody’s daughter Tamsin to defend her late mother’s seat in a by-election last year, while with splendid irony Mr Blair’s ejection of most of the hereditary members of the House of Lords was masterminded by Baroness Jay, the daughter of Jim Callaghan.

Consider the traditionally left-leaning callings such as acting and the media, and the same dynastic principles apply. Just look up Polly Toynbee on Wikipedia.

There is nothing wrong with this, in my view. I would like my son to have the same sort of cushy, desk-bound life that I have enjoyed, rather than doing something arduous, dangerous and badly paid.

What upsets me is hypocrisy: people who preach equality of opportunity while ensuring that their own offspring are fast-tracked up the ladder. These are the same individuals who fought so hard to ensure that genuine avenues of advancement for the talented children of the poor, like state grammar schools, were done away with; and who, when they are found with their hands in the till of the House of Commons, say that what we need is radical constitutional reform, starting with an elected House of Lords.

I say that at least you know where you are with a duke, and can reasonably hope that someone who owns half a county isn’t going to bother fiddling his travelling expenses. Now that the Hann genes surprisingly look set to last another generation, I am seriously thinking of devoting my declining years to a crusade for honest recognition that the hereditary principle has always been with us, and always will be. I shall seek no reward but a modest bauble to pass on to my son; Viscount Callaly has a pleasant ring to it.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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