Monday, December 31, 2007

The hereditary principle

After Tony Blair's resignation as Prime Minister the Blair family retreated to the ancestral home in Durham where Blair's "political will and testament" was read. Blair nominated his wife, Cherie, to be his successor, but the other members of the family - recalling her infamous "supermarket dash" and the Bristol flats imbroglio - ruled this out. Instead they selected Euan Blair, his nineteen year old son, as Party Leader. Euan will face the Leader of the Opposition, Mark Thatcher, at his first Question Time...

No, not really, but ceteris paribus that's pretty much what happened on Planet Pakistan yesterday. Benazir had bequeathed the party to Mr. Ten Percent but the family ruled him out and opted for the nineteen year old son, Bilawal, currently a student at Oxford. But the father will be custodian of the party until Bilawal completes his studies. It's like an episode of The Tudors. In his first press interview Bilawal spoke of the need for democracy, which, considering the manner of his succession, adds new dimensions to the world "surreal".

Bilawal does sound like a nice young man. He is being described as "reserved", "unassuming", "bookish", and "shy". At Oxford, it is said, "he does not broadcast his family connections and appears to live the life of any other first year student". (Sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll? It seems not). Then again, tons of students at Oxford are "well-connected" (another student said it was not considered "particularly interesting or special"). It's not as though he goes to the John Moores University of Liverpool (known locally as "The John"). And as for being quiet and unassuming, well, so was Michael Corleone.

But then again, living in England, is one really in a position to mock the hereditary principle? Even now 92 members of the legislature are hereditaries, and before 1999 most peers were hereditary. Astonishingly the only peers who are elected are the hereditaries (admittedly by a rather narrow electorate: the other hereditaries!). Talk about surreal. And, of course, the head of state, Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg Gotha, is an hereditary (and she is the hereditary head of the established Church).

Bilawal is certainly taking on an awesome responsibility. One assumes he is now a target for the Islamicist suicide bombers and assassins. It's not, to be frank, an inheritance I would want (I wouldn't mind the cash. Or the Surrey mansion worth - in 1995 - £2.5 million. Those Oxford tuition fees don't pay themselves). But I expect this is something he has been prepared for all his life. Again, just like The Tudors.


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