Wednesday 16 February 2011

The David Cameron guide to getting a good graduate job

"I want everybody to have the chances I had", Prime Minister David Cameron has said to his party conference, being quite open about the privileges of his background, but seeking to extend them to everybody.

Having rightly expressed concern at rising youth unemployment today, that might suggest that the Prime Minister should have done more more than to simply laugh off Ed Miliband's challenge to the Tory party auctioning off internships for £4000 for party funds to £400 a head attendes at the Black and White tie ball. He has shown himself adept at the u-turn - from photographers to forests today. Would it really have been too much to admit it was a mistake, and say that it won't happen again?

Cameron instead parried the question by making this an issue about personal biography.

His point that Ed Miliband got work experience through a family connection through his father's association with Tony Benn is a fair one, which the Labour leader must surely acknowledge. But it does also seem rather strange of the Prime Minister to choose to personalise this issue in this way, since his own use of personal connections might well have a good claim to be more spectacular even than any of his often well connected colleagues and opponents on the rival Parliamentary frontbenches. Let us today take our cue from the Prime Minister and, out of a sense of good old British fair play, examine the evidence about Cameron's career trajectory as well as that of his opponent.

The Tory leader can in no way help or be blamed for being a distant cousin of the Queen. (The Prime Minister is William IV's great-great-great-great-great grandson, which Debrett's says makes him fifth cousin, twice removed, of the Queen; the Daily Mail, while perhaps slipping somewhat regrettably into 'class war' territory, has supplied fascinating pictorial comparison.

But Cameron appears to have pragmatically benefitted from the connection when being just another graduate looking for a job.

As the Daily Mail report set out, nobody has ever owned up to being the mystery Buckingham Palace caller who put in a good word (albeit in less troubled economic times) for David Cameron, the graduate job seeker.

When the young Cameron was due to attend a job interview at Conservative Central Office, a phone call was received from Buckingham Palace. "I understand you are to see David Cameron," said the caller. "I am ringing to tell you that you are about to meet a truly remarkable young man."

It has been speculated that the mystery call was from Captain Sir Alastair Aird, Equerry to the Queen Mother and husband of Cameron's godmother. The Airds vigorously denied it.

Others have suggested the caller might have been Sir Brian McGrath, a family friend who was private secretary to Prince Philip. But he, too, though named as a referee for the job, denies it firmly.

No matter - the tale provides an illuminating insight into the family's enviable social standing, and how the ambitious Cameron was helped by well-placed friends and family.

And how did he land a plum job at Carlton Television. Our previous How to get on in PR (and politics) post quoted The Guardian's profile by James Robinson and David Teather on the making of a modern PM.

The manner in which he obtained the job says much about how men of Cameron's background tend to progress through life. The future Tory leader, whose credentials at Conservative central office were already well-established after periods working for Norman Lamont and Michael Howard, believed a stint in the private sector would benefit his political career. With no experience outside politics, he did what any old Etonian might do and worked his contacts. The mother of Cameron's then girlfriend Samantha, Lady Astor, was friends with Michael Green, then executive chairman of Carlton and one of Margaret Thatcher's favourite businessmen. She suggested he hire Cameron, and Green, a mercurial millionaire, obliged. The 27-year-old was duly recruited on a salary of about £90,000 a year (the equivalent of more than £130,000 today).

One former Carlton executive remembers Green often found jobs for family friends and social acquaintances. "At one stage I was asked to find a job for Michael's daughter and also for Suzie Ratner [daughter of Gerald Ratner, whose jewellery business collapsed after he described his own products as 'crap']. On one hand [Carlton] was kind of a global conglomerate, on the other it was like a family business. It would be 'my neighbour's nephew's daughter' or 'someone I met at the synagogue or at Arsenal' – and not 'Would you give them a job?' but 'Give them a fucking job'".

But, remember, the Prime Minister would like every child to have these chances too. Proposals for a radical reform of school and university careers' advice to achieve this will surely be welcomed by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and the Cabinet Office.

Increasing the gap between state and private school spending - so that there are cuts in spending in most state schools - won't help Cameron's social justice mission either.


This post inadvertently omitted two Cameron job opportunities prior to landing the CCHQ job with a Buckingham Palace assist, again as reported in Zoe Brennan's Mail feature in 2007:

he Camerons know how to 'work' their connections, too. David Cameron got his first job as a researcher for Tim Rathbone, his godfather and Conservative MP for Lewes.

Three months later he went to Hong Kong to work at the conglomerate Jardine Matheson - Daddy was stockbroker to the chairman, providing a fast-track into the business world.


There are certainly legitimately debated - and contested - issues about the right approach to work experience and internships. Following Alan Milburn's social mobility review, Andy Burnham has done a great deal to emphasise the issue further, including calling last week for transparent and open recruitment for internships and work experience, to open up these opportunities. Others go further and challenge the use of unpaid work experience altogether. While there are different views on these issues, the case for auctioning opportunities for party funds may well lack any public defenders.

1 comment:

Guido Fawkes said...

How does one get on in the Labour Party? The leadership campaign was fought out amongst Oxbridge graduates, two of the candidates were sons of a left-wing historian with connections deep into North London Labour intellectual circles.

The deputy leader and shadow chancellor were privately educated at elite schools.

The personal inter-relationships at the top of the party would shame a Norfolk farm. Siblings, couples and familiar surnames abound.

Such is life. I'm not a chippy state educated non-graduate mind you...