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From our very short series of Spud questions we can answer positively:

Is David Cameron really as stupid as all appearances suggest he might be?

38 thoughts on “Yes”

  1. Bloke in North Dorset

    Completely OT, apart from it being about an equally odious character to Spud, Michal Mann.

    Somebody mentioned Mark Steyn’s trial starting recently. I’ve just come across an excellent podcast from a couple of Irish journalists who are in court. They are using voice actors for some of the exchanges and Mark Steyn is on real form.

    I’m just catching up so there will probably be more, but in episode 3 when they’re talking about Mann’s bogus claim to be a Nobel laureate, Steyn compares the claim to that of someone on the nudist beach in St Tropez claiming they’re also a Nobel laureate on the back of the EU winning a Nobel .

    Its called Climate Change on Trial.

  2. So the guy who went to Heatherdown Preparatory School, then Eton from age 13 onwards, and afterwards got a first class degree from Brasenose College Oxford is stupid?
    Yes, I know it was only PPE, but still…
    Whatever he is, I don’t believe ‘stupid’ covers it.

  3. Anecdata alert.

    His recently deceased brother, Alex (the KC), was one of the cleverest people I have ever met and Dave was supposed to be smarter than him. His Prof, Vernon Bogdanor, claimed he was the smartest student he had.

    Still, there’s smart, then there’s clever, then there’s intelligent. They don’t necessarily overlap.

  4. @BlokeinBrum, yes?

    The whole Prep/Eton/Oxford route has been carefully finetuned over centuries to allow the thicko kids from the Nobs and Proper People to “perform” in the Public Sector.
    Actual intelligence is not required, and it shows.

    All that route teaches is a highly specific kind of “street smart” , fit for the vaunted positions the students are destined to.

  5. Grikath, I’m well aware that a ginormous amount of money or influence will grease the skids for the less mentally capable upper class knobs.
    But the claim (from Spud of all people!) that our David is somehow not quite dealing from a full deck is simply just a hefty dose of envy mixed with resentment. As much as I dislike/mistrust all politicians, it pays not to underestimate them or mischaracterize them.

  6. I don’t know if Cameron is stupid – I’d say he’s lackadaisical and lacks the ability to stick at a task. However, Murphy is an absolute moron -reading the wider article, apparently if the Fascists are in the Middle East people should be free to vote for them? Utterly surreal from someone who sees fascism in almost every article – he appears utterly clueless when confronted with a movement (Hamas) which is genuinely fascist.

  7. «The whole Prep/Eton/Oxford route has been carefully finetuned over centuries to allow the thicko kids from the Nobs and Proper People to “perform” in the Public Sector.»

    That’s a valuable insight to ponder on.

  8. Unfortunately, the Oxbridge mob have probably done irreparable harm to this country.

    Not due to lack of brains, but due to having sufficient brains to believe themselves smarter than everyone else.

    That coupled with an ingrained sense of entitlement borne of coming from the ‘right’ families and social milieu has meant that they have pursued whatever they believed in, in their social bubble with a fanatical zeal, to the detriment of everone else.

    cf. Net Zero, Covid Lockdowns, mass immigration etc. etc. etc.

    I would settle for politicians and civil servants who endevour to do as little as possible.

  9. Looking at the ways psychologists measure or define intelligence, you simply can’t be without it if you manage to pass the Eton entry exam, the A-level offer for Oxbridge (unless you get a bizarrely low one – the story of David Miliband’s Oxbridge entry has a very funny smell), or – even if it’s PPE – your Oxbridge finals. David Cameron had extensive vocabulary and verbal dexterity, the ability to fashion an argument, had to get his head around an absolutely staggering volume of government policies (enough to appear “on top” of stuff when asked about practically any story currently in the news, plus a heap of much more boring stuff working its way through government or parliament, and keeping track of any potential political grenades the media just hadn’t had a sniff of yet)… these are not the marks of a thickie. People don’t usually display their numeracy in everyday life, but his skills there must be decent there too (aside from school exams, there are equations in the “E” of “PPE”) so I doubt the problem is that he’s literate but not numerate. He persuaded people who clearly are very intelligent that he was also very intelligent – I don’t think you can fake your way past Vernon Bogdanor. It’s pointless speculating what he’d have been like without the education he had, as if only his genetically innate intelligence counts – the development of the human brain is boosted by education, and we know that a good education can increase general IQ, it isn’t just an economic signalling effect or the cramming of heads with useless knowledge (though it is partly those things too). This is one reason why rich people pay for good schooling for their kids, and indeed why they are right to do so.

    Sometimes he made serious political misjudgements – I’m a big Brexit fan so going forward with the ref and then not trying to blindside us all Irish-style with a re-ref is probably the one thing I’ll always be grateful to DC for, but you have to say it was a misjudgement to offer the referendum at all. He only did so on the assumption he would get a crushing win and close the issue down. Moreover, even if you argue he got unlucky with losing the ref (he might not have expected to have a majority at the next election and hoped a renewed coalition with the Lib Dems would provide a way out, and the Syrian migrant crisis dominating the European media in the run-up was something he couldn’t reasonably have anticipated when the promise was made) it was still a crap strategy – even if the pro-Brexit vote had been only 40%, they weren’t gonna go away, any more than Remainers did when they lost. The ref brought attention to the Brexit cause, made it appear a viable outcome rather than a pipe dream, and got pro-Brexit groups organised and funded in a way they hadn’t been before. So if Cameron had won, he’d only have awakened a sleeping giant. It seems unlikely to have healed the rifts in the Conservative Party like he’d argued it would.

    There’s also a whole heap of nonsense Cameron either fervently believed in or at least nominally signed up to. Probably everyone has to go along with some nonsense as a cost of participating in everyday life, and most of us don’t get our more eccentric beliefs scrutinised in the same way a politician does. Politicians are also sometimes obliged to spout ridiculous platitudes they privately disagree with, because The Truth would get them into all kinds of trouble. And I don’t think his post-political Greensill dealings necessarily prove Cameron was thick, but do show he was commercially naive and inexperienced, aside from anything it reveals about his character. The book-smarts he had demonstrated repeatedly earlier in life didn’t prevent him from falling into that hole. But are people with high levels of “intelligence” really very well protected from making stupid mistakes of any kind? Nor does intelligence mean they can whizz off brilliant policies that will rescue the country from its current state – I’m not sure such a set of brilliant policies even exists, but if they do the problem’s not that it takes a genius to come up with them. Most policies involve trade-offs, whether it’s one group vs another, or the long term vs the short term, rather than easy wins and free lunches. The difficult thing is identifying a reasonably coherent and beneficial policy set, then building the kind of political coalition around it that can result in it getting implemented.

    There are people everywhere who’ll tell you what needs to get done to fix Britain or America or Oz or wherever, but most of them would struggle to cobble a few hundred votes together if they ran on that platform in their local elections. Perhaps some of them are even right, but if that’s the best they can muster then we’ll never know. Similarly, the world is full of people who can expound their views on the current political currents and the trends we should be looking for in the years to come – but the fact they’re making their living as, at best, talking heads, rather than as professional strategy analysts or making a fortune by betting on politics or trading oil futures, shows just how hard reading the political tea leaves really is. DC did manage to get to the top of the greasy pole, which takes a mixture of intelligence and luck (and political timing, which is a bit of both). He didn’t always forecast which way the winds were blowing, which is why his stay at the top wasn’t longer – but professional pundits rarely get it right either. We can wish that he’d used his time at the top to change Britain for the better rather more than he did, but to say the reason he didn’t is solely because he’s a thickie would ignore both the constraints of political reality (the fact he needed to bring other people with him, the difficulties of coalition, the fact he needed to win an election not just the support of people below the line of a blog post) and the fact even objectively intelligent people can get caught up in all kinds of wishful thinking about what’s really good for the country.

    I’m not saying this as an apologia for Cameron. If anything, it’s more worrying that someone by all accounts so intelligent and well-versed in the detail of governance still cocked everything up as much as he did. Given how government policies impact just about every facet of life in Britain today, that’s not a good sign – and the problem strikes me as circular, in that the more pies that government has a thumb in, the more we need it to get right, so the more difficult it becomes to find a government sufficiently talented that it really can “run” the country sensibly. Everyone suggesting “the problem with Cameron is that he was an idiot”, implicitly suggesting that “if only we found ‘smart’ people to run for office they could easily sort everything out!” is barking up a very dangerously “meritocratic” or technocratic tree. I’d happily argue the opposite – the fact someone with brain-power the size of Cameron was still making the mistakes he made in the role, is a sign we’d be better off under a government that didn’t try to “run” so many aspects of the national life.

    It’s even arguable that people like Blair, Cameron, Sunak, Starmer and so on are too intelligent for the job, because it puts them under the misapprehension that their government can “solve” things simply by following “smart” policies.

  10. I’ll make an observation. There have been 16 different Prime Ministers since the war. Of those only 3 didn’t go to Oxford (One passed the entrance exam & couldn’t afford it, one went to the Jockish equivalent & one was bedding someone went to Oxford). These are the people who have presided over the decline of the UK from being a first rate world power to a third rate shithole. Whatever they teach at Oxford, it certainly isn’t to the benefit of the UK.

  11. I’m not sure I’m agreeing with Anon’s thesis or disagreeing. But these are the people who’ve taken you down this path. And since they’ve almost all got that thing in common, as have a remarkable number of the cabinet ministers* who’ve served under them, one can’t help but wonder if there’s something seriously wrong with the UK political situation. It’s effectively been a one party state. You wonder you can’t tell the difference between the parties?

    *Not to mention senior civil servants

  12. We’ve been over this before. Being able to pass exams that test for intellect (as all exams at uni level do) with flying colours does not mean you are well suited to be in charge of stuff. It means you’re an intellectual. You’re good at manipulating ideas, words concepts and the like. Those abilities CAN be translated into real world leadership and decision making success, and equally those abilities can be allied to stupendous idiocy of the highest order when it comes to making decisions in the real world. Very ‘clever’ people can make incredibly stupid decisions, because their intellect does not in and of itself equip them to make those decisions well. And as BiS has pointed out, the recent selection process in the Uk (and elsewhere) has pretty much proved that selecting our rulers from those that are very good at passing certain types of exams is an obviously failing selection process. We are missing some very important factor. It would be like selecting people for a basketball team on the basis that basketball players are all tall, so just get 5 really tall people, without checking if any of them have any physical aptitude for playing the game. 5 really tall but physically inept basketballers are going to get pissed on in a game by 5 shorter people who can actually run, throw, catch, dribble and shoot accurately. But 5 tall people who can also play are going to piss on the shorter players.

    I would argue that while intellectual ability is certainly a good thing in a leader, and necessary for success in that role, its not the only requirement, and must be allied to other abilities. It is almost certainly better to have a person who has a balance of both characteristics over one who has higher levels of one, but none/little of the other.

  13. I keep being told there’s more than one type of intelligence so why can’t there be more than one type of stupidity

  14. The root problem is, of course Jim, credentialism. And Oxford invented credentialism. It’s the essence of the university system. And credentialism is judgement by your peers. The people who taught you. Who were judged by the people who taught them. As they you go on to teach others. A positive feedback system. And academic independence. Which is another way of saying the real world should not intrude. At least with the hard sciences you have the experimental method to prove theory is bollocks when necessary. If they let it. But where else do you have it? It’s all self referential. The theory is correct because they say it is.
    I suspect the only solution is to pull the entire university edifice down & start again. Maybe holding an Oxford degree (& the other place?) should put them on something like the sexual offences list. Never to let near politics, government, the law or money. Ever again.

  15. It’s not just Camoron, it’s probably every “leader” in the western world, and not just the western world. Has vlad been good for russia, winnie for china?

    None of these people are stupid, and I don’t think any of their action are actually stupid either, but fuck me, the outcomes!!!?

    The world is failing because the parasites are destroying their host (even that isn’t “stupid”, it just demonstrates how truly detached from reality they are).

    Everybody posting here. Look at what you do where you work and ask yourself what your replacements will be when you’re gone? (I’m guessing posters tend towards the older demographic).

    In my case, even those who seem to have a bit of genuine potential all have “attitude” to some degree or other.

    Only a dose of brutal reality can genuinely change that.

    That coming, just a question of when and how brutal it will actually be.

  16. Quite. Oxbridge has become like the Chinese mandarinate. Taking a lot of extremely bright people through an exhaustive exam process then turning them into utterly useless parasites destroying their host body.

  17. Cameron is certainly not stupid. You only have to look at the videos of him during Prime Ministers Question Time to see that he is very smart.

  18. It’s not a case of lacking the basic mental horsepower, or even lacking experience. That can be gained.

    It’s an attitude that I will now do this job, as I see fit. I will do (or at least make what I think are appropriate noises) “initiatives”, parrot the zeitgeist etc, but I have no interest at all in the details and background that are required to genuinely master anything.

    That is beneath me. My towering intellect is for the “big picture”. I’m thinking of my “legacy” (efficiency and smooth running is generally invisible so that doesn’t count). Besides, I have minions.

    You see this everywhere.

  19. Anon,

    “He persuaded people who clearly are very intelligent that he was also very intelligent – I don’t think you can fake your way past Vernon Bogdanor.”

    How do you know that? As Bloke in Spain says, most academia is an internal loop that lacks real world testing. My information about Vernon Bogdanor is based on a few TV interviews and repeatedly being told that he’s clever by those in and around politics. But most of those people don’t have the first clue.

    Where is the hard evidence that Cameron was taught well about one of: politics, economics or philosophy? Was he an election winning machine? Hardly. Did he make us a lot richer? No. He got to be a politician because he had the money to go into it and had all the surface stuff. He’s a likeable looking bloke who could sound good making a speech and didn’t seem to be a nutter. He failed to oppose Brown’s spending, he pissed off the right of the party, he failed to reform the state in any way, he continued down the path of remaining in the EU even after the renegotiation was an embarassment. Almost anyone dealt the same hand of Conservative leader could have done a better job of it than he did. Not getting a majority in 2010 is like not managing to have sex with a prostitute.

  20. It’s more than just Oxford. They’re bought. At the minimum those that get the important strategic jobs; and it’s self-selecting that they get those jobs. Kneelalot and the snake: Trilateral and WEF. Same all over in other countries. It’s simply becoming more obvious with time. Only 3 (or whatever it was) British MPs voting against the 2008 Climate Change Act? LOL!

  21. Andyf

    Cameron is certainly not stupid. You only have to look at the videos of him during Prime Ministers Question Time to see that he is very smart.

    Sure, he’s not stupid. But wrt PMQ, that was his profession. Any of us who spend years of training/practice get good at it (10,000 hours and all that). That was his job – he had always been a politician – and PMQ is not so different from the many interviews, meetings and all the rest (and which they rehearse/practise lots for).

  22. Wot Recusant said – clever, smart, intelligent aren’t necessarily the same thing. He definitely appears to be one, probably two. Bloody hell, there’s an outside chance he may even be all three.

    Twelve O-levels, three A-levels. You would definitely want the guy in for an interview in 1984, if his CV hit your desk. More so in ’88, once the Oxford degree gets added.

    However, he went to the Conservative Research Department, then SPAD, then jumped to Carlton, Director Corporate Affairs, aged 28 in ’94. OK.

    But, that’s troubling, since it would appear that Carlton valued his connections within government and the Conservative Party higher than his apparent smarts or capability. Handy, in that he probably won’t drop a bollock, but not really why he’s there.

    Getting that gig would be a form a validation, that what he was doing was correct, so he probably began to vanish up his own arse, and never let the political ambitions go, entering the House in ’01, at almost exactly the wrong time.

    He was involved in three GEs. At the CRD in’92, when The Sun splashed “Last Person to Leave…” followed by “It’s The Sun Wot Won It”. The Party out-performed, but not convincingly so, and it was against Kinnock. Again, 2010, the “Heir to Blair” failed to beat Brown out-right. 2015, Miliband seemed to think the “Ed Stone” was a good idea.

    He’s probably just about OK, if conditions are right. He does seem to have far too many unexamined assumptions to cope successfully with a shift in the environment.

    Oh, and the other quote from Bogdanor, who is what he is, from Cameron’s wiki entry – “I think he is very confused. I’ve read his speech and it’s filled with contradictions. There are one or two good things in it but one glimpses them, as it were, through a mist of misunderstanding“, which is lifted from here;

  23. O/T, but while I’m perusing DC’s wiki entry, there’s this;

    “After leaving Eton in 1984, Cameron started a nine-month gap year. For three months, he worked as a researcher for his godfather Tim Rathbone, then Conservative MP for Lewes, during which time he attended debates in the House of Commons. Through his father, he was then employed for a further three months in Hong Kong by Jardine Matheson as a ‘ship jumper’, an administrative post.

    Returning from Hong Kong, Cameron visited the then-Soviet Union, where he was approached by two Russian men speaking fluent English. He was later told by one of his professors that it was “definitely an attempt” by the KGB to recruit him.[33]”

    Note 33 is, which has slightly more detail, taken from when Cameron was the guest on Desert Island Discs in 2006;

    “The suspected KGB approach from Russian intelligence came while he was travelling in his year out between school and university.

    He met a friend in Moscow and went to Yalta on the Black Sea coast, where two Russians speaking “perfect English” had turned up on a beach mostly used by foreigners.

    “They took us out to dinner and interrogated us in a friendly way about life in England and what we thought and politics,” he said.

    “We were obviously very careful and guarded in what we said but later when I got to university my politics tutor said that was definitely an attempt.”


    Mr Cameron said the incident had raised eyebrows when he was being vetted to become a special adviser at the Treasury in the 1990s.

    His story had made the vetting officer fill his notebook, he said.”

    I suspect the vetting officer might have filled something else, given that it’s around 1985, Cameron is 18-19 years old, and the Soviet Union hadn’t collapsed yet. Able Archer was two years before.

    Cameron has yet to appear at Brasenose, but he’s already completed Eton.

    Fascinating, in that the KGB already had an attack vector into the British Establishment (obviously, given what had already happened with the Cambridge Five), and it’s basically a function of a structural failure in the Establishment.

    Take a look at Starmer, – “from 1986 to 1987, Keir Starmer served as the editor of Socialist Alternatives, a Trotskyist radical magazine. The magazine was produced by an organization under the same name, which represented the British section of the International Revolutionary Marxist Tendency (IRMT)” – indeed, and then a swift butcher’s at the Shadow Cabinet.

    Before I got bored, the only stand-out outsider is Rayner. And Haigh’s got a proper rack.

    The apparent vector for foreign powers, assumed to be hostile, is now a Single Point Of Failure, probably critical. Lots of furrin dustbins at British Unis now, keeping them all afloat, apparently. For an intelligence agency, that’s probably the best 30 grand you ever spent.

    Couple of other points; Trump, Farage, Brexit paid for by Putin – what a dance, probably initiated by those who are already foreign assets, or very close to such. Deflection strategy, bravo, very well done, indeed.

    The “citizen’s army” thing, recently floated – suggestive, Sunak et al might want to fight the GE on a foreign policy platform, rather than domestic. Could get interesting.

    Ho, ho, ho.

  24. @Ducky

    LOTOs and PMs don’t usually write their own speeches, so Bogdanor’s comments on one of Cameron’s speeches aren’t all that telling in terms of Cameron’s personal intelligence. Moreover, public speeches don’t perfectly reflect someone’s true philosophy – attempting to present a case that might persuade other people to your cause often means hiding some of what you really think but which you suspect your audience would reject, while mouthing platitudes you think your audience might get on board with it. That’s not politically stupid – as much as people say they like conviction politicians who “tell it like it is”, they’re seldom rewarded for it in the polling booth. I don’t think Cameron’s idea of shifting the “Nasty Party” image was an act of idiocy, given the performance of the last few leaders before him. Oddly the Bogdanor interview refers to one of those few areas where Cameron had positioned himself with a harder edge:

    But why did this able student with his courteous Etonian manners come up with such a misbegotten idea as a bill of rights to replace Labour’s six-year-old Human Rights Act, and to what extent is he, as Cameron’s former tutor (and thus presumably one of the influences on his political thinking), responsible? “I can’t be held responsible for every idea my students have had!”

    True, but Bogdanor was so concerned about this particular former student’s idea that this week he offered the Conservative leader a remedial course. Shortly after Cameron gave his speech to the Centre for Policy Studies in London, in which he argued that the HRA was “inadequate” and should be replaced by a bill of rights, Bogdanor said: “I’d be quite happy to give him a few more tutorials on civil liberties.”

    I take Western Bloke’s point that academia is a circle-jerk but this isn’t a guy who’d flunk an IQ test. He has detailed grasp of a huge body of material, a serious analytical mind, his published work is insightful, well-argued, logically coherent etc etc. But fwiw, as much as everyone agrees Bogdanor has serious brains, he is a Lib Dem. That’s not disqualifying from being intelligent – there are lots of fearsomely clever leftie liberal KCs who would express horror at the idea of unwinding the HRA. Sadly the HRA is more embedded than ever now. If Cameron did have a chance to remove it, it was post-2015, since it was clearly a no-goer under the Coalition, and even that would have added an extra nine years of it bedding in to the six years in the speech. Rather harder to shift by then, and even harder now. I think more people who post chez Tim are upset that he didn’t go through with it when he had the chance than that he even dared suggest it, so would prefer Cameron circa 2006 over Bogdanor on this one. I also suspect Bogdanor was right that the speech was confused – anyone running on a ticket of “I’m not nasty, honestly, I just want to repeal your human rights” has dug themselves into something of a hole, and Cameron’s get-out to square that circle seems to have been “because an authentically British Bill of Rights will give you even more secure liberties!” That’s a … hard sell. I think Cameron’s basic instinct on the issue was right: the HRA is fundamentally un-British, a political quid pro quo for repealing it would be a more British-flavoured replacement (and, given the power of the state, some sort of Bill of Rights is arguably a good idea at this moment of time), but if you have to present it as something you’re doing for nice fluffy hoodie-hugging huskie-loving reasons then you’re going to come across as muddled. And it wasn’t an issue Cameron saw as a really serious problem (much as I wish he had – I’m only claiming Cameron is intelligent, not that he’s right about everything), so to a large extent his musings about getting rid of the HRA were just red meat for the Tory Right. The fact his speech had to disguise that fact could only add to its perceived incoherence.

    I’m inclined to believe a lot of decisions Cameron had to make were largely orthogonal to the issue of his intelligence, or lack thereof. To go back to one of Western Bloke’s points, one of the things he did that really ticked off the Tory Right, indirectly leading to him making the Brexit ref pledge that ultimately brought him down, was legalising gay marriage. That was something public opinion turned very quickly on, from a quite outlandish possibility of only niche interest, to a totemic indicator of whether you were a dinosaur or not. Rightly or wrongly, Cameron saw it as a bear trap of an issue, that kicking the can down the road meant risking his dinosaur wing re-contaminating the Conservative brand, that a plausible conservative case for marriage could be made so he wouldn’t look insincere adopting the cause himself (indeed, his socially liberal inclinations suggest he believed in it wholeheartedly), and so it was better to shut the issue down ASAP by “owning” it. The net result was a right-wing uproar that had to be assuaged (as I argued above, the Brexit ref pledge was not necessarily a wise way to do so) and a few years down the line, young people hate the Tories anyway so the goal of preventing the party becoming toxic in their eyes went unfulfilled for other reasons. But to what extent was this about Cameron’s intelligence or stupidity, and how much was about his values or the political realities of the day? Is it really fair to suggest that if only he had an extra 25 IQ points, he’d have discovered another way out of the gay marriage impasse? Perhaps he could have found a way to get it through that didn’t upset his right-wing backbenchers so much, but strikes me they’d have been upset however much he coddled them through the new social reality. It certainly wouldn’t have done him any good to go into a general election masquerading as the “true defender of marriage”: he didn’t have the social conservative cred to be perceived as an authentic anti-gay marriage campaigner, and public opinion had (apparently irreversibly) already shifted in favour. Of course, maybe I can’t see a smart way out of it because I’m not that intelligent myself. But lots of political decisions are messy like the gay marriage one was, a gamble on uncertain events or outcomes where you’re trading off between bad, or at least risky, options. It’s not a logic puzzle which a political Einstein could just “solve”.

  25. My guide to everything is people seek to maximise what they perceive as their personal advantage
    Altruism is a bird rarely seen. So Cameron’s motivations: To climb the greasy pole professionally, socially & financially. His talent: To get the ‘perceive’ correct. All else follows.
    That is how the system works because there is no “system”. All are individuals intent on maximising their personal benefit. Those who get the “perceive” correct are the ones climb nearer to the top of the greasy pole with maximum personal benefit. Anything that comes out of that is purely accidental.
    It’s not as depressing as it sounds. Interests align. That “socially” can be very important because although people are individuals they interact socially. And that social interaction can encourage alignments that are beneficial to the nation. Or to its detriment.
    You can see the whole of “woke” as being a social interaction. The same with “green”. It’s individuals seeking to rise rise to prominence in a social group. Mostly it has bugger all to do with the issues.

  26. @Anon
    I’d contest what you say about “clever”. Their are some fields where there’s independent metric to judge it. You can have a clever engineer, a clever chemist, a clever physicist. Because it’s the real world doing the judging. But so many of the fields you’re talking about are social constructs. They’re essentially self referential. A clever KC is clever in that social construct called the Law. Outside of it? It’s the same problem as the IQ test. People perform well by the metric of those set IQ tests.

  27. I think uni credentials needs to be respected.
    But in the real world the bad guys get respected, and the good guys are seen as losers. Most people are on the side of the bad guys. It is sad but true. The more of a evil person you are the more you are admired. While goodness is seen as stupid. That is the cause of failure in society.

  28. I think uni credentials needs to be respected.
    Depends what they are. They may be the credentials needed to succeed in gaining the position to govern a country against the competition for the position. That doesn’t necessarily imply they are what are required to govern the country to the benefit of its inhabitants. They may be entirely different metrics. UK history since 1945 would seem to suggest so. It’s not just the incumbent PM’s. It’s the entire ruling elite. Although I reckon the word elite would need some serious inverted commas. Since it’s largely self defining.

  29. @bis

    You can definitely have one lawyer outthink another. They might compete within the realms of a social construct, but it’s not as if they’re not battle-tested. With an engineer or mathematician we might get to see who’s “right” in a more objective sense, but I don’t think that means we can’t talk about a lawyer’s cognitive abilities. In so far as there is a measurable concept of “intelligence”, it’s not just limited to STEM subjects. A well-replicated finding from psychometrics is that there’s an underlying g-factor which correlates to performance across a range of cognitive tasks. Lawyers who have strong grasp of a large quantity of sometimes very abstract material, a wide vocabulary, the ability to form logical and/or persuasive arguments, etc, are clearly demonstrating objectively measurable intelligence. You can argue whether their intelligence is usefully directed or not, but the cognitive ability is there.

    If you do want to restrict yourself to whether supposed intelligence is producing objectively correct results, you’re still not limited to STEM. Forecasting politically significant events is part of the day job for many people, from political analysts to oil futures traders. That gives a track record people can be judged on. But given how chaotic society is, such predictions are tough and even the best will get a lot wrong – you just need to look at the volatility in futures markets or political betting odds to see how often unknowns (many of them unknown unknowns) can turn consensus upside-down. So you need to judge people’s forecasting ability cautiously, and if you’re gonna be clever about it, base it more on whether their predictions were well-calibrated (did most of the stuff they said was likely to happen, happen… and did only a few things they said were unlikely to happen, happen) than more binary “they said X might happen and it did/didn’t”.

    I’m bringing that up because for politicians that’s one of the things where I’d concede intelligence matters. Politicians who completely misjudge which way the wind is blowing will have, objectively speaking, errors in their decision-making. That makes more sense than assessing them only by policies, since those are constrained by political factors (appealing to voters, appeasing different wings of the party, getting something through cabinet) not just whether they “work” or not. When thinking ahead like a forecaster, the only onus on a politician is to get things right. Like I said, one mark against claims of Cameron’s intelligence is how easily he assumed he’d win the Brexit ref when he pledged to hold one. But a fair assessment of that mistake would also have to consider the evidence he had in front of him at the time: polling evidence that he’d win, academic analysis of previous referenda across many countries showing voters had a bias to swing towards the status quo, and a less-than-ideal post-GFC economy that you might reasonably think the electorate would be wary of potentially disrupting (if the economy was soaring and people’s confidence in Britain was high, you might think they’d be more prepared to take a risk).

    On the other hand, Cameron was acutely aware of Farage’s appeal, and that should have made him more wary. Three big “unknown” factors at the time of the pledge that might have been decisive in Remain falling short of the 50% mark were the utter uselessness of the renegotiation, Corbyn becoming Labour leader, and the Syrian refugee crisis. The negotiation shambles should have been totally foreseeable, given the priorities of other European leaders and the weakness of his negotiating position (no matter how bad the deal he got, he wasn’t going to campaign against it) so the original pitch we “remain in a Reformed European Union” was vulnerable from the start. It shouldn’t have been a surprise they ended up virtually dropping it from the campaign, as there were no reforms to speak of. Corbyn was a big surprise, if you judge by political betting odds or who all the talking heads thought would win. When Cameron pledged a referendum, he knew it would only come to fruition if Labour lost the next election, so it was almost certain that Ed Miliband would be replaced by the time of any referendum, but it must have seemed vanishingly unlikely it would be by a Euroskeptic. You can’t think of Cameron as an idiot because he didn’t anticipate that would happen, but then again, there was always a risk to running a referendum where you’re relying on the opposition party to “deliver” the voters you can’t reach – even Cameron’s hopes of a clear victory would still have relied on Labour voters, as he knew full well. Although the Arab Spring had clearly failed by the time of Cameron’s pledge, the full extent of the refugee crisis was not predictable, so again I’ll give him a pass on that – as an illustration of how chaotic the system is, the media and then European political reaction was turned on a sixpence by the photograph of one drowned child, from a photographer who happened to be in the right place at the right time. There was no predicting the madness that that photograph would unleash.

    Overall you could make a reasonable case that Cameron’s confidence in winning the Brexit ref was objectively misplaced at the time he pledged to hold one, and that a more intelligent version of Cameron would have decided to offer some less risky red meat to his party’s right wing instead. You could alternatively argue it was a riskier gamble than he thought, but that he was correct to believe he’d probably win. It will be easier to judge the quality of his reasoning once more memoirs or official papers get published. But you’d need to weigh up his record across a range of predictions. I picked that apart in more detail since it’s the thing that brought about his downfall, but decisions made about the Libyan intervention would be another – experience by this point had at least taught Western governments not to put boots on the ground, but without that, why would anyone think disintegrating state structures using air power was going to produce a safe and stable country? The end results should not have caught governments by surprise. What was Cameron thinking?

    Against such failures, you have to say that compared to the Tory leaders before him, there were a lot of judgment calls Cameron got right. Hague and IDS seemed particularly incapable of reading the runes of British society, leaving them outmanoeuvred by Blair and left on the wrong side of many issues. You don’t need to be fearsomely intelligent to succeed in that though, and getting those sorts of calls right might be more about having the right “vibes” for the time and place. The floating voters in Cameron’s two general elections were disproportionately Middle Englanders left jaded by New Labour – Cameron’s upper-middle-class, small-l liberal, small-c conservative, well-mannered leanings meant he was very in-touch with the demographic he needed to tune in to. So like Western Bloke put it, Cameron was pretty much the right person at the right time. The bit I’d disagree with WB about is that there seems, to me at least, to be a decent amount of objective evidence that Cameron would fulfil a cognitive psychologist’s definition of “intelligence”. (The fact it didn’t translate into lots of brilliant or even useful policies is pretty much my point – I’m utterly unconvinced that mega-brain politicians would run the UK any better, in which case the current poor management is not, in itself, evidence we’re being ruled by micro-brains.) But I’m quite suspicious that many of the calls Cameron got right about the way the UK electorate would respond to policies or events (which, broadly, he did well on) were driven less by his analytical ability and more by his prejudices matching those of the floating voters he needed to reach. A big reason he lost the Brexit ref is the pro-Brexit trend from working-class Labour voters (many but not all of whom went on to vote for Boris but who’d never have voted for Cameron), precisely the kind of demographic slice you wouldn’t have expected Cameron to be on a common wavelength with.

  30. @ Phil, No they damn well don’t need to be.

    They’re just another metric regarding the potential of a person who has them. Measured against the Academic System. Which very much is not anything resembling the old actual Universities it pretends to be the grandchild of.

    You see.. With the general availability of libraries, and later the Internet, Universities ( and any higher education and/or Guild system..) have completely lost their monopoly on Knowledge.
    It’s perfectly possible to educate oneself or others in any subject well up to academic level. If the smarts and aptitude are there, of course.
    I’ve helped a couple of people who never would have made it into University, let alone function in the Academic Environment, by themselves get to that level.
    All it takes is a serious interest in a subject, some aptitude, and a willingness to possibly fail while seeing how far down the rabbit hole you can actually get.
    And an internet connection.

    With Universities having lost their monopoly on Knowledge, their only monopoly left is their function as Gatekeeper, and they are increasingly (ab)using that monopoly to keep their status in society.
    Which has become increasingly obvious to even the most dense over the past couple of decades.

    And with that, any “respect” an academic degree would rate has vanished. Because you don’t need one anymore to actually “perform” in Real Life™ at that level.
    And outside of the Academic World, it’s what you can actually do that garners respect. And there is a hell of a lot more “Outside of Academics” than there is “Academics”.

  31. bloke in spain said:
    “There have been 16 different Prime Ministers since the war. Of those only 3 didn’t go to Oxford (One passed the entrance exam & couldn’t afford it, one went to the Jockish equivalent & one was bedding someone went to Oxford).”

    Is that:
    “One passed the entrance exam & couldn’t afford it” – Callaghan
    “one went to the Jockish equivalent” – Brown
    “one was bedding someone went to Oxford” – is that Major? The older, better-off woman he was with before the mousy Norma? I didn’t know she was an Oxford girl.

    But if so, you’ve missed off Churchill, who probably did too badly in exams to even be put forward.

    Apparently he only just scraped into public school (and I don’t think it was one of the more intellectual ones), and took several attempts and some hard cramming to get into Sandhurst (which was also hardly the pinnacle of intellectual rigour).

    He’s probably your best example of university education not being necessary for a good PM (although that might open up arguments about how good his post-war government was).

  32. bloke in spain said:
    “You can see the whole of “woke” as being a social interaction. The same with “green”. It’s individuals seeking to rise to prominence in a social group.”

    Yup. Sadly most of government (and big business) policy for years seems to be a combination of status signalling and not upsetting the wife’s dinner party guests.

  33. Interesting to read all the above. One thing that comes to mind is that the dismal performance of many of these highly-“educated” mega-brains that comprise “the elite” is a near-total lack of basic, pragmatic common-sense and understanding of the real world.

    Take the fanaticism for “decarbonising” and “net zero” for instance… In the haste to get rid of fossil-fuel energy and the gadarine rush towards “renewables” the big-brains seem to have completely failed to understand that the wind doesn’t always blow (or blows too hard) and that it gets dark at night – something that “yer average bloke down the pub” knows full well.

    Hence the idiocies inflicted upon us.

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