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Saturday, 24 August 2013 00:00

The Hurd mentality

by Paddy McGuffin

It is one of life's ironies that when it comes to politicians shooting themselves in the foot you can generally rely on it being someone who went to an educational institution with a cadet force.

It is one of life's ironies that when it comes to politicians shooting themselves in the foot you can generally rely on it being someone who went to an educational institution with a cadet force.

Thus is was this week that it came to be the turn of Tory Nick Hurd, the bizarrely titled Minister for Civil Society.

There seems to be a minister for everything these days. I'm sure there weren't that many when this column was an ankle-biter.

It's not so much a Cabinet as a sodding great wardrobe - or, as most of this government would probably call it, an armoire.

Hurd sparked indignation and brought opprobrium upon himself in equal measure by claiming that unemployed kids only had themselves to blame.

His reasoning for this - if it can be called that - was apparently due to the fact that today's youth don't have enough "grit."

For the uninitiated, there is a reason why Hurd's name might ring a bell. It's because he happens to be the son of Thatcher's lackey Douglas Hurd, now Lord Hurd of Westwell.

Hurd fils is in fact a fourth-generation MP, raised on the mean streets of Westminster and educated at the schools of hard knocks - Eton and Oxford - where, predictably, he was also a member of that unofficial Cabinet recruiting group and all round git generator the Bullingdon Club.

It's not exactly Oliver Twist, is it?

His father-in-law is also the Marquess of Lothian ... AKA fellow arch-Tory Michael Ancram...

For all these reasons Hurd obviously felt himself eminently qualified to lecture the proles on how to get on in life. Namely, "so-called soft skills, character skills, the ability to get on with different people, to articulate yourself (oneself surely) clearly, confidence, grit, self-control."

Sounds an awful lot like the things they teach you at public school.

A massive sense of entitlement, insufferable arrogance and how to debag day boys. Oh, and not forgetting to be born massively wealthy.

And it was no doubt precisely these skills that allowed the young urchin Hurd to pull himself up by his bootstraps, become a striver not a shirker and smarm his way into a succession of cushy and lucrative jobs.

These included banker, Tory Party adviser, a member of the Conservative research department. Do you sense a pattern emerging here...

So much "grit" did he display, in fact, that he found himself being elevated to the position of Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Grocers - which sounds like the Masons but without the metric system - and parachuted into a safe Tory seat in west London.

A real riches to even greater riches story.

But he wasn't finished there. "Social skills and discipline are every bit as essential for success as qualifications, yet they are not being taught in schools," he said. "Something's gone wrong."

Hmm, that would be the Tory education policy I imagine.

"This is a critical time in their lives to be stretching and challenging them and make them feel engaged."

To give them their due, this coalition is certainly doing its bit to ensure the nation's disenfranchised young are stretched and challenged.

Cutting housing benefit for the under-25s. Forcing them into slave labour work programmes. Trebling tuition fees and axing what jobs there were for anyone who actually manages to get an education against all the odds.

Hurd's comments came as the Office for National Statistics published figures showing that the number of young people neither in education employment or training - in current jargon, "Neets" - had barely reduced despite all the Tories' claims to the contrary.

Meanwhile youth unemployment is close to hitting one million and rising - like gorge in the collective national throat.

In terms of engagement they fall down somewhat, however. The only thing that's engaged these days is the Jobcentre Plus phoneline.

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