16 January 2007

In memoriam: Auberon Waugh

Today, six years ago, the world lost Auberon Waugh, one of the funniest columnists ever. Waugh, the son of novelist Evelyn, was one of the very few British writers to draw attention to mediocracy (though he didn't call it that) without feeling he had to apologise to the prevailing pseudo-egalitarian ideology. Dumbing down, euro-bossiness, "progressive" Christians, phoney socialists - all were grist to his mill. His satire was subtle, so you couldn't always be sure when he was being serious and when tongue-in-cheek.

And if you need more recommendation than that, the mere fact that Polly Toynbee hated him should be reason enough to mourn his loss.

The following is a sample of his Way of the World column for the Daily Telegraph. Written in 1996, it is - sadly - even more relevant today than it was then.

GLOOMY FUTURE

In retrospect, there may be something terribly sad about those pictures which appeared day after day showing schoolchildren grinning all over their faces and hugging each other as they opened their exam results.




There are those who maintain that the extraordinarily high percentage of good grades was fully justified, that this year's children are brighter than those of previous years. Perhaps it is true that they are brighter. Their only problem, as the Institute of Management has pointed out, is that they cannot read or write or do the simplest sums.

'Over three-quarters of our members believe that current education standards are a threat to our economic competitiveness,' said Roger Young, the Institute's director-general, pointing out that these young people do not have the skills to make them employable.

A robust alternative view is that we have no business to submit our children to school examinations as it encourages elitism, favours the more intelligent and creates an unhealthy feeling of failure in the less successful. This view is more or less accommodated in the present arrangement, where everybody, or nearly everybody, is given a 'pass' and most are told they have passed with flying colours.

But it does not solve the problem of what will happen to all these gleeful schoolgirls whom we saw hugging each other as they read their A-level and GCSE results. No doubt the decline in the birthrate has added to our sentimentality about children, but I detect a note of doom in the general hysteria.

Of course a few of the more adventurous among them may take to the streets, but many of these highly qualified school leavers will probably fill their days as single parents in specially built accommodation, in the depths of the countryside, waiting patiently for their next welfare cheque.
The illustration is by the incomparable Willie Rushton, who sadly is also no longer with us.

Copyright of extract: Daily Telegraph 1998.

Update: Via Out From Under, I am reminded that today is also the 300-year anniversary of the creation of "Great Britain", an event for which there has been zero publicity.