Outsider artists and the caricaturing of Essex

PerryConstabl2

Two Essex artists have grabbed my attention this week. Centuries apart, they reveal not only the changing culture and demography of my home county but also the changing nature of outsidership.

We’ll start with John Constable (1776-1837) – a candidate to dignify the new £20 note (you can vote for him here). Born and raised on the Essex-Suffolk border, Constable eventually gave his name to the lower Stour valley he painted in the style of the Old Dutch Masters he so admired.

Part of the English romantic movement, his love for his childhood home yielded depictions of rural life – such as The Hay Wain, Dedham Vale, Flatford Mill and The Cornfield – that, as well as becoming part of English consciousness, form the idealised image every Essex man and woman has of their tribal homeland. Indeed, in the 1960-70s, it was a rare Essex home that didn’t have one of the four (or perhaps Dedham Lock and Mill) gracing their “lounge” wall.

Yet John was not destined to become an artist: he had to fight for it. His father, Golding Constable – a wealthy corn merchant and the owner of Flatford Mill – was keen for him to take over the family business. The elder Constable even arranged for young John to meet a professional artist, John Thomas Smith, with Smith primed to dissuade him from viewing art as anything other than a hobby. Yet the idealistic youth persisted and, after winning a place at the Royal Academy, persuaded his father to agree a small stipend for his maintenance.

Of course, John’s route to “finding meaning” was not unusual – with many of the nineteenth century’s most famous artists (even those claiming near-starvation in pursuit of their passion) in reality relying on modest but liveable private incomes from family wealth. These are the “eccentric insiders” I talk about in The Outside Edge – using their privileges and insider knowledge to gain an edge while pursuing individualistic creative careers.

That said, as a merchant’s son (rather than an aristo), Constable was hardly a full-on insider, and his outsider-creds were further enhanced while at the RA. Here he was encouraged (even bullied) towards the artistic needs of Britain’s burgeoning empire, which involved undertaking portraiture or military painting for the imperial classes.

Yet Constable resisted in order to pursue his passion for painting agrarian landscapes – even comparing the Stour valley favourably with the Lake District (which he thought too lonely, while his Essex/Suffolk paintings teem with rural life). He declined an artistic residency at Great Marlow Military College, a refusal that infuriated the RA’s master who declared it the end of Constable’s nascent artistic career.

In his defence, John wrote a letter that reveals – not only the agonising choices outsiders face when pressured by others – but his determination to seek clarity, truth and meaning (a key outsider requisite) no matter what the cost.

“The great vice of the present day is bravura [parading your skill],” he wrote, “an attempt to do something beyond the truth.”

It’s this existentialist quest for authenticity and personal truth that makes Constable a true outsider: a man seeking meaning for his life, no matter what the cost.

Grayson Perry, meanwhile, appears to be someone who sought meaning, found fame, and is only now seeking truth. Brought up in the suburban flatlands of mid-Essex, family stress (his father left due to his mother’s infidelity) and straitened finances caused the boy Grayson to retreat into a fantasyland of his own make-believe: a common childhood departure for outsiders in stressful but uninspiring environments (me included).

Yet Perry – already battling with transvestism (something of a no-no in the heartlands of working-class Toryism) – was fortunate enough to pass his 11+ and win a place at Chelmsford’s renowned King Edward VI Grammar School. Here, he was encouraged to study art and – via a foundation course at Braintree College – undertook a BA in art at Portsmouth Poly, graduating in 1982.

A “hand to mouth existence” followed – with Grayson searching for identity among the punks and New Romantics of early-80s London. Meanwhile, he started lessons in pottery and ceramics at the Central Institute, and found the medium “enthralling” – its formality making his anarchic and explicit depictions of sexual perversion (including sadomasochism, bondage and transvestism) all the more shocking.

Grayson had discovered his thing, which was in corrupting what he called the “honest pot” with thematic narratives of his own stressful upbringing, family dysfunction and child abuse. So unique was his work that, when accepting the Turner Prize in 2003, he stated that the judges found his pottery harder to contemplate than his transvestism (he received the award dressed as his alter-ego Wendy).

Perry found creative expression despite genuine disadvantage: surmounting both cultural and economic barriers to achievement. Yet that doesn’t stop me feeling discomforted by his increasing obsession with modern Essex life. Indeed, I’m becoming worried that, what’s dressed as romanticism and empathy is, in fact, a sly form of mockery.

While presented as enquiry (his search for truth), my concern at his veiled disdain has been bubbling for a while. Yet it erupted with this week’s launch – to much hype and fanfare (including four articles in the same day’s Guardian) – of A House for Essex.

Ironically built on the banks of the Stour estuary – a short punt downstream from “Constable Country” – the house is what Grayson calls the “Taj Mahal of Essex”. It’s a monument to his love of a fictional, hard-pressed, Essex “everywoman” called Julie Cope, whose life (from Canvey Island to Colchester) is depicted in the artefacts and hangings thematically adorning the various rooms. Of course, Essex produces few art critics, so the art establishment has unquestioningly marvelled at the creativity and guile of it all: the building is, after all, quite something.

Yet have they accepted his professed championing of Essex normality too willingly – when it could be interpreted as an underhand insult to Essex values, tastes and aspirations? The second husband called Rob, the “dream” holiday to India, the glass of Merlot, her perverse death caused by a pizza delivery moped:  hmmm – I worry this is not a celebration of “normal” but a send-up of “trivial” lower middle class lives. Is Grayson – an activist from Labour’s fashionista wing – attacking that very Essex (indeed English) desire to “get on”?

I hope not, though he confessed that many people in the Wrabness area (where the house is located) may view him and the project team (including the architects FAT) as “a bunch of pretentious metropolitan wankers”. Quite.

That said, I’m probably being over-sensitive. After all, Constable’s depiction of Essex was equally caricatured. In reality, the bucolic lives he depicted – whether threshing corn, working barges or washing clothes – were, (to quote Hobbes), “nasty, brutish and short”.

Ultimately, both artists are Essex-escapees, though ones claiming their former territory in order to “find meaning”. Once comfortably ensconced within the intelligentsia of North London (Constable died in Hampstead, Perry lives in Islington), however, Essex simplicity (old and new) can be romanticised, parodied and even mocked to generate art for the delectation of their new insider tribe – knowing that the natives will lap up the attention anyway.

Model “House for Essex” anyone?

www.robert-kelsey.co.uk

 

The bitter Sugar-coated pill that Labour must swallow

Sugar

So Lord (Alan) Sugar has quit the Labour Party – appalled, apparently, with Ed Miliband’s anti-business rhetoric and general agnosticism towards wealth creation and the private sector. Hardly big news, I guess: some questioned his affinity in the first place while others wondered whether it was, in part, the inequities of the UK’s honours system that led him to embrace Labour. Certainly, the advantages of ennoblement in the UK are such, that – if someone wanted to make me a lord – I’d not look too hard at the political compromises required.

Yet there’s far more to Alan Sugar’s loyalty than that – in terms of both his joining and leaving of the Labour Party. First of all the joining, a move he made in 1997 (long before his 2009 elevation to the Lords) and one in-tune with his working class East End background. A product of post-war, pre-hipster Hackney, Alan Sugar was the youngest of four children. His father worked in the garment industry: a typical occupation for a Jewish East Ender at the time, though hardly a well-paid one. Indeed, Sugar was brought up in a council flat and attended the local secondary modern school – with low attainment the likely and planned for result.

Yet young Alan developed an aptitude with numbers – so much so that he won a job as a statistician with the civil service. This was a fantastic result given the era and his background, and one no doubt making his parents proud. Partly fuelled by his feelings of not belonging, however, Sugar couldn’t settle into the work – resulting in him swapping the job for a career flogging electrical goods out of the back of his van, and then via mail order. It was a classic outsider outcome where imposter syndrome and thrill-seeking came together to wreck any notion of a normal career progression, despite the pleadings (I’ve no doubt) of his elders and betters.

That said, Sugar never forgot his roots, which – although a maverick individualist – led him to both donate and actively participate in the Labour Party of Tony Blair. Sugar was impressed by a party that, not only understood the struggles of the disadvantaged, but was also in-tune with their aspirations. This was not a desire for “redistribution” (i.e. handouts) but for the near-universal human need to “get on” (what Aristotle called our innate teleology). At last, here was a party that understood poverty but – rather than “save” people (generating dependencies) – wanted to remove barriers to helping them save themselves and prosper.

Indeed, the Labour Party under Blair became that rare thing in British politics: the right people saying the right things, when previously they’d been the right people saying the wrong things (at least for ambitious entrepreneurs). They’d finally captured the Essex Man zeitgeist: of people willing to work hard and prosper if left alone to do so. It brilliantly took the mantle of Thatcherism – a hard-hearted doctrine of unpalatable Alf Garnet-style “truths” – and both softened and democratised it: who wouldn’t want to be part of that?

Well, Labour politicians for one. Rather than viewing it as an alignment with the aspirations of the class they aim to represent, most simply tolerated Blairism as a necessary evil after 18 years in the wilderness. Their instincts were still statist, patrician, top-down and redistributive, which meant that the aspirant New Labour doctrine was quickly undermined after Blair’s departure and abandoned once out of office.

Labour’s move away from Blairism was, in my view, a reflection of the backgrounds of many of those in the Labour movement. These were the people, in part, that stuck at the civil service statistician’s job – using the extraordinary growth of the public sector as a means to personal self-improvement. Others came from a union background (both big industry and public sector) – another (somewhat old-fashioned) route to advancement for the working class. Yet, by 2010, the party had become dominated by highly-educated upper-middle class intellectuals that – while well-versed in the theoretical arguments regarding class consciousness and rapacious capitalism – would be horrified by the prospect of selling electrical goods out of the back of a van or even convening a union meeting for shop-floor workers.

This was a self-actualised class of people personified – for many – by the likes of Ed Miliband, Harriet Harman and Polly Toynbee. It was principled and honourable, and – while a strong fit for debating-society panel discussions (they held the moral high-ground after all) – a million-miles from the lives and experiences of ordinary folk beyond the intellectual salons of North London (ironically, now including Hackney).

But there’s a rider to this – something that, in my view, goes to the heart of Alan Sugar’s eventual alienation from a party I’ve no doubt he was genuinely committed to. The rider involves the notion – derived from all those student-union debates that shaped the intellectual left’s perspective – that only those not on the side of business and “capitalism” can possess a social conscience.

For the intellectual left that came to dominate Labour post-Blair, the profit motive is simply incapable of producing a social benefit. The two are incompatible, which – clearly – excludes the efforts of Lord Sugar despite the staggering level of employment, personal advancement (for his staff), export income, tax receipts, and economic growth his companies have produced over the years.

For the intellectual left, social advancement requires a top-down redistribution of wealth. It’s the installation of fairness via edict – assuming market forces incapable of anything other than a malign outcome. You heard this very clearly on election night from the speeches of returning leftwing MPs (whether Labour, Green or SNP). Many spoke of “fear winning” on Thursday night when, in fact, close to the opposite was true. It’s their fear of capitalism that fuels the intellectual left’s attack on the private sector: resulting in a refusal to accept that private enterprise can be anything other than a dark force on the lives of the vulnerable, or on public services such as the NHS, or even on the environment.

It’s this myopia that explains the post-Blair alienation of business from the Labour Party, which is – for me – a tragedy. From Neil Kinnock onwards the Labour Party fought hard to remove the deadhand of old-school rustbelt socialism: something Blair managed through vision, guile and sheer brilliance. He told the private sector that you can make a profit and have a social conscience: something the private sector knew anyway but assumed the left misunderstood.

The Labour Party of Miliband, Harman and Ed Balls, however, reversed that notion – even distancing themselves from the party’s own successes under Blair. They told me and millions like me that they, alone, possess a social conscience – the dignity of work, wealth creation and personal advancement be damned.

Well that view, I hope, can be consigned to history by a leftwing intelligentsia that had no right to lecture me on my social conscience. Ultimately, the intellectual wing of the Labour Party bought its own hubris. An arrogance that awarded themselves a monopoly on right and wrong, when all they really had was a monopoly on self-righteousness. It was always an unpalatable insult to me and millions of business-minded people like me. But it’s now cost them dear – and I hope they learn the lesson.

www.robert-kelsey.co.uk

 

A “park the bus” election that ignores our entrepreneurial future

Scary

Am I the only one thinking this a God-awful election campaign? With the polls on a knife-edge it’s become more like an Arsenal Vs Chelsea fixture – with the focus being, not on winning, but on not making mistakes, avoiding the loss. The two main parties are supposed to be travelling the country on their election buses, but appear – instead – to have “parked the bus” (a football expression meaning to throw everything at defence without trying to score).

Certainly, both lack vision. Of course, “vision” is something of a cliché in politics – perhaps rendered passé in an era jaded by economic fragility and post-Blair weariness at his hijacking of the “cool Britannia” vibe (as well as Cameron’s “big society” non-starter). But the vision of Britain’s economic future is there none the less: it’s one I see every day. It’s just not being articulated by either party – preferring instead to focus on the failings of the other side and the perceived dangers they represent.

So what is this vision? Here I sit in my small office in the back streets of London’s East End and it’s a vision I see all around me. Essentially, it’s of an entrepreneurial Britain in which individuals have the guile and confidence to generate their own futures – alone or with partners; freelance or as a company – selling their creativity and endeavour (in whatever form) to the world, and generating bucket loads of jobs into the bargain.

It’s of a workforce of savvy, self-actualised people that have direction, want to pursue their own objectives and have the will and, importantly, the skills and space to do so. It’s an economy open to all, broadly hospitable and certainly respectful. Yet it’s also engaged, questioning, articulate, solutions-oriented and – more than anything – productive. And it’s of a Britain that’s at ease with itself but edgy enough to excite. It’s multicultural, self-developmental, innovative, creative and cool. Sure, there’s stress: not everyone gets on and some issues (such as gentrification) are explosive. But it’s a Hegelian tension creating invention and progress.

Amazingly, this isn’t some cloud-cuckoo vision dribbling from a politician’s mouth. I’m describing what’s actually happening NOW in London’s City fringe – an arc stretching east from King’s Cross through Clerkenwell, Shoreditch, Hackney and Whitechapel to Southwark in the south (with plenty also happening in Brixton, Hammersmith, Stratford etc).

And it’s not just in London. I was in Manchester last week and noticed the same entrepreneurial vibe. I hear similar things about Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh – and it’s been apparent in places like Brighton, Oxford and Cambridge for years. Even towns like Poole, Slough and Blackpool have become entrepreneurial hotspots.

This is Britain’s economic present and future: there’s an entrepreneurial revolution underway – one to match the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century. A miracle-economy of growth-creating, job-generating, small, creative, companies (in all fields – food, finance and pharmacy as much as tech and media) that are meritocratic, rewarding, enlightening and (heaven forbid) fun. Once again, Britain’s becoming the workshop of the world – though this time the work’s fulfilling rather than exploitative. It’s digitised, networked and relying on brain not brawn.

So why have both parties given this future-view of the UK little more than lip-service? Because this election is being fought on the ideological territory that concerned our parents’ generation. And it stinks. The Conservatives see their missing voters as the ageing East Coast grumblers attracted to UKIP’s atavistic message of “wanting their country back”. These voters would walk the streets of Shoreditch in horror: at the many languages and cultures seamlessly mixing and synergising, at the disrespectful atmosphere of creative destruction all around them, and at the Sodom and Gomorrah liberalism bursting from every doorway.

Meanwhile, Labour is wary of the free-market entrepreneurial capitalism on display. This is a can-do, self-motivated, crowd with little time for the statist interventionist welfarism of the left. The values of the Unite union leader Len McCluskey (a dominant figure in Labour’s current leftward drift) are as alien to the new economy’s pioneers as the grey-vote UKIPers of Clacton and Ramsgate. And that prevents Labour embracing entrepreneurialism (or even fully understanding it).

In fact, many of the iMac generation entrepreneurs (and future entrepreneurs) like the left’s principles and social liberalism. But they find the high-tax dirigisme – and anything interfering with a free labour market – a turnoff, hence their lukewarm view of the current Labour Party (despite some respect for Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary). And while they like many of the Conservatives’ policies, they can’t abide the patrician old-school-tie insincerity of the privileged elite that run the current Conservative Party (who have, anyway, made little effort to woo them – again, making me wonder whether they fully understand what’s occurring).

This vision – of a socially and economically liberal society and a workforce pursuing individualistic self-actualised goals often through entrepreneurialism – remains popular with an enormous swathe of the under 50s (as shown in a 2013 Economist survey) while being ignored – or, worse, disliked – by the two main parties.

Perhaps the Greens could accost this vision? Certainly, they have the young-vibrancy, cultural-tolerance and liberal-creativity required. But they’re so heavily redistributive that, again, they’re unlikely to become the political voice for a future that – unless the politicians screw it up – will happen with or without them.

Of course, that’s the danger. That – by chasing the grey/class-war vote – the politicians wreck this positive view of Britain’s economic future. Make too many moves in the wrong direction – in order to shore up their “base” – and this vision will evaporate in a puff of protectionist over-regulation, high-taxes and/or cultural intolerance. It’s a fragile thing, after all: just ask France (who’ve lost it), America (who’re losing it) and Germany (who’re trying – with some success – to acquire it). But Britain has it: in spades. We’re the very country that has seen the future and embraced it – at least, those that matter to the UK’s future have. So why oh why are the politicians ignoring it?

Of course, as an outsider I find this political ignorance of Britain’s economic future doubly frustrating. After all, this is the outsider economy. It’s for individuals to find meaningful lives through skill acquisition and by working for their own account (even if, short-term, this requires the apprenticeship of employment) – exactly as I describe in The Outside Edge. It refutes the vested interests of big business as well as the unionised public services. It’s an economy of outsiders by outsiders, for outsiders, which may explain why the two main parties – run by consummate insiders attached to insider vested interests – not only don’t get it, but don’t seem to want it.

As the US journalist Joseph Sobran said, “politics is the conspiracy of the unproductive but organised against the productive but unorganised”. Since I first became enfranchised (in the 1980s) no UK election has so reflected this depressing dichotomy.

www.robert-kelsey.co.uk

The Outside Edge: How Outsiders can Succeed in a World Made by Insiders

 

OMG! I think I’m a female entrepreneur

conchita

The Centre for Entrepreneurs (of which I am deputy chairman) and Barclays Bank recently launched a report on female entrepreneurs. Called “Shattering Stereotypes”, the aim was to use surveys and empirical data to undermine our perceived ideas (and even prejudices) regarding women as owners of start-up companies. This it did admirably – noting that women entrepreneurs were on average younger than their male counterparts (challenging the “mumpreneur” image). They also paid themselves higher salaries. However, the report also reinforced some “typical” female entrepreneur traits – such as their more cautious attitude to risk and debt and their desire to put sustainability ahead of break-neck growth.

In fact, hearing the report’s findings being presented at the Legatum Institute in Monday evening I sat there somewhat surprised: not least because I concluded that I’m a female entrepreneur. Yes, that’s right: in terms of my attitudes towards risk, debt and sustainability, I possess more-typically female – rather than typically-male – entrepreneurial attitudes and qualities.

Rather than check my gender, so to speak, this had me wondering whether there was something else going on. Was it, perhaps, to do with a type of person (rather than a gender) that – nonetheless – has a statistical bias towards females and particularly female entrepreneurs, although is not an exclusively female trait?

Yes, you guessed it, as the author of The Outside Edge, I’m wondering whether it’s outsiders that are being revealed by the analysis – the notion that, by feeling like an imposter, we’re bound to behave differently: perhaps by being a little more cautious. A little less gung-ho. Feeling more vulnerable (especially to external forces), perhaps we’re keen to sustain our position rather than abandon any caution in favour of a “screw it let’s do it” bravado. We might also be less willing – and certainly less able – to take on debt.

Well-cited research shows that females in business are far more likely to struggle with “imposter syndrome” than men – the notion that (no matter what their qualifications) they cannot shake the thought that they somehow don’t belong. They’re an illegitimate presence in the meeting/pitch/boardroom, they think – a phenomenon first discovered in professional women by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes (although later expanded to include anyone discomforted within their peer group despite being there on merit).

Almost by definition, outsiders feel like imposters. We’re inevitably alienated from situations involving group norms, which has a significant impact on our attitudes towards both group endeavours (we tend to be cynical) and risk. In fact, it disables our ability to calculate risk, which – oddly – can lead to wild risk taking, although is more likely – in our careers – to inhibit or suppress our risk appetite.  To make us play safe, even as entrepreneurs.

So was the research revealing a propensity for outsiders to develop female entrepreneurial traits or for women entrepreneurs to feel more like outsiders? Or a mix of both – one reinforcing the other perhaps? Certainly, that was my conclusion: making this a groundbreaking report but also one opening the door to further research – perhaps looking at horizontal, rather than purely vertical, societal boundaries to entrepreneurship.

Indeed, I couldn’t help wondering whether there was also a class angle to the propensities found within female entrepreneurs – something I put to Emily Haisley of Barclays Behaviourial and Quantitative Finance (the leader of the research on behalf of Barclay and the Centre). She agreed. While noting that the survey was blind to background, she stated that the entrepreneurs she studied tended to be upper middle class (usually defined in the UK as someone with a private education) and were extraordinarily more gutsy compared to the general population.

The fact that privilege offers us an advantage in business is hardly a revelation. As I’ve said before, privilege offers the lucky few an advantage in everything: sport, music, the arts – even becoming a tramp (just ask Old Etonian George Orwell, who used homelessness to establish his literary credentials). But the fact it offers an advantage when it comes to risk – and risk appetite – is perhaps more revelatory: not least because it somewhat goes against our perceptions of the courageous rags-to-riches self-made millionaire.

But that’s to somewhat dilute the conclusions of this excellent piece of research from Barclays and the Centre for Entrepreneurs. And it’s important to point out that it wasn’t condemning women as scared-e-cats when it came to business: far from it. The women in the survey were willing to take risks, but were more sensitive to risk – and less likely to fall into the over-confidence trap of many (particularly privileged) male entrepreneurs, in which modest success is converted into a preening arrogance or psychopathic megalomania (neither being investor-friendly traits despite appearances).

My guess is that what holds true for female entrepreneurs holds true for outsiders in general – meaning that, far from being the outliers when it comes to entrepreneurial success, we may be the proverbial tortoise racing against the male/insider hare.

Actually, one last point on this if I may – something that differentiated me from all the actual female entrepreneurs in the room. A discussion started regarding what women in business needed above all else. The conclusion: a wife. Female entrepreneurs would just love to have a wife to help them because, in nearly all cases, the husband just didn’t cut the mustard when it came to family duties, household maintenance or emotional support. Indeed, there was a great deal of anecdotal evidence (supported by the survey) that one of the barriers to female entrepreneurship was the need to support the husband’s career. Oh dear – and mea culpa. Indeed, I do have a wife (not pictured) – one that I couldn’t have achieved anything without. One that encouraged me and took on so many of the support duties required of the spouse of a neurotic outsider entrepreneur. Lucky me. And thank you!

www.robert-kelsey.co.uk

 

 

The Outside Edge: How Outsiders Can Succeed in a World Made by Insiders, by Robert Kelsey.

An outsider’s view of the election: when two tribes go to the polls

CavRound2

I’ve been working with David Cameron and Ed Miliband for the past 30 years, on and off. Of course, this doesn’t mean I’ve been working with them – i.e. those two individuals. In fact, I’ve yet to meet either of the main party leaders. Just that during my time as an adult – as a student in Manchester and working in London’s three primary industries (property, media and finance) – I’ve spent a great deal of time with these two types of dominant London professional: the posh Daves and the trendy Eds. Incidentally, a third type – the state-educated zone-4 (and beyond) commuter – doesn’t get to run a political party.

Both Cameron and Miliband are perfect examples of their respective tribes, which – for me – makes this a fascinating general election. The perennial outsider, I’m able to watch – for the first time – my generation’s two prevailing groups of insiders battle it out. Of course, I have a view (which I’ll come to), but – make no mistake – I feel equally estranged from both tribes.

In fact, the two tribes have a lot in common. They’re similarly educated (often doing the same course at the same university) and can both be labelled “privileged” in one form or another and certainly “advantaged”. Both consider themselves part of the elite and, in fact, have matching cultural tastes and, extraordinarily, similar (unstated) snobberies. Yet, philosophically, they’re poles apart – and a million miles from my own cultural anchoring (such as it was).

So let’s start with the Daves, where there’s the widest gap between them and I, at least in terms of background. The Daves are a friendly bunch: highly sociable, effortlessly charming and well mannered – in fact, “super polite”. Spend an hour in their company and your cheeks hurt from smiling too much while your brain aches due to the smalltalk. Indeed, the conversation is deliberately light and nuanced, usually about mutual acquaintances (however stretched), or food, or – if really pushed for common ground – sport or traffic.

Yet don’t be fooled. Your every utterance is placing you within a complicated social hierarchy. You’re being silently graded – not so much for your wealth and breeding (though both matter) – but for your usefulness. Indeed, despite an easy, born-to-rule authority, both male and female Daves are highly ambitious creatures. They’re obsessed with a “great game” that sees them unhesitatingly shaft colleagues and friends, with those on the receiving end expected to shrug off the loss as if a game of tennis.

Of course, this makes the Daves staggeringly-good schemers, which is perhaps their most maddening quality: the fact you’re almost certainly being manipulated in some unfathomable way. You can never quite tell what they’re up to and certainly never believe a word they say. That said, the Daves do listen and they’re highly practical: ideologues they ain’t.

Although professional Londoners, they occupy a golden triangle that has Hyde Park Corner as its apex, the M40 and M3 as its northern and southern boundaries (give or take) and the M5 as its western limit. In fact, Oxford is undoubtedly the epicentre of their world, which – from a historical perspective – is interesting: Oxford was the royalist capital in the English Civil War and the Daves are most certainly modern Cavaliers. They’re obsessed with status and social hierarchy – including their elevated position within it – yet there’s something faintly shambolic about them, as if there’s a natural order where things just, you know, happen.

Which takes us to the Eds: those conscientious Roundheads whose central objective of “change” is focused on replacing the “natural order” with something equally intangible – a country run on principles. They’re earnest and worthy – studiously empathetic – but also a bit serious and rather judgemental.

Indeed, many Eds speak and behave with the moral certainty of religious zealots. Become too loose tongued, and an hour in their company can feel like an inquisition from the witch-finder general with any manner of identity-politics traps likely to have you accused of staring at the moon or conversing with cats (i.e. being in some way transgressive). Less happy in their own skin, they can even seem angry and, in a few cases, embittered – at least compared to the phlegmatic ease with which the Daves glide through life.

No less ambitious than the Daves, though far more diligent, they welcome converts – erecting none of the sometimes-unstated barriers to membership that are the forte of the Daves. For the Eds – and within reason – it’s not your background that matters but the fact you agree with their outlook, which revolves around the central premise that the world would be such a nice place if only other people thought and did as the Eds think and do.

They’re the embodiment of Abraham Maslow’s self-actualisation – occupying a post-materialist moral high-ground that, no less than the Daves, seems (to those struggling to “get on”) to be the values of people from an entirely different planet.

Yet Planet Ed is smaller than Planet Dave: geographically occupying just a few North and South London postcodes with N1 at its epicentre (though an epicentre being dragged east by rising house-prices). Smaller outposts exist in South Manchester and other university cities. Indeed, outposts is the right word because there’s an underlying sense of siege about the Eds – the notion that most people are too blind or self-centred to agree with or even understand them.

While the Daves assume everybody wants their life, the Eds assume only the anointed few have their enlightenment, while the great unwashed toil under the false consciousness of Thatcherism (the evil Beelzebub or our age – sometimes depersonalised to the catch-all term “neoliberalism”): hence their barely-hidden disdain for the rest of us.

So which of the two tribes would I choose, if forced? An evening spent with the Daves would be entertaining but I’d come away worried about my many faux pas, such as using the word toilet or eating asparagus with a knife and fork or misusing the term faux pas. Yet I’d leave the Eds feeling equally inadequate: that I was somehow unworthy.

And, oddly, I owe the Daves. As a teenage apprentice in a posh West End surveying firm (employed because of my ability to converse with gasfitters) they adopted me as their gor-blimey cockney mascot – a curiosity to mock and belittle. But they never thought me stupid or immoral – simply poorly educated – and encouraged me towards adult education: a change in mindset that resulted in evening A’ level classes and, ultimately, three years spent with the Eds doing politics at Manchester University.

Yet it goes against the grain for an outsider like me to cheer-on the Cavaliers: the ultimate insiders. From any reading of the Civil War, I’ve always been Cromwell’s man – hating the affectations of the royalists, as well as their pathetic assumptions regarding birth-right, and loving the fact a highly-disciplined army of East Anglian yeomen swept all before them.

But I can’t help thinking King Charles (and certainly his son) would have made better company than those puritan zealots, who – given my track-record – would immediately suspect me of gazing too long at the moon or chatting to next door’s tabby.

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