NC: That's an interesting point. But it's easy to be despairing about free societies at the moment because it is a corrupted Communist dictatorship that is the world's booming economy. It is Putin's Russia which is doing quite nicely, thank you. India and Brazil are democracies but remarkably corrupt democracies. It's quite hard to resist the temptation to say, "Oh well, we're all in terminal decline. I don't know what we're expected to do about this." George seems to want the right to be very, very rude about people at the top of society, which is absolutely fine by me. I wish more people were. I wish people like Greg Dyke or Peter Bazalgette were stock figures of fun.
GW: Very powerful people.
NC: But beyond that, what do you want to do?
DJ: Yes, George, is there anything practical we can do?
GW: Well obviously there are things in education. I'm not as pessimistic as you suggest. A lot of people of my generation have no reason to complain about anything. Why? Partly because we had far more opportunities to advance financially, culturally, career-wise, than are going to be open today. I am not very optimistic for the next generation, which is why I wrote a book entitled Time to Emigrate? a few years ago, predicting — dare I say it — everything that has happened since. I am a bit pessimistic, to put it mildly, about a 25-year-old couple living in London on average wages, whether it's trying to find somewhere for their children to go to school, or for that matter finding somewhere to live. For them, I am pessimistic. But again, the people closer to the top of society with a certain amount of money will find a way through for their children.
For the rest I don't see the future. Obviously I agree there are good people in universities and so on. I was higher education minister, I've met them. But they're not the problem so I'm not talking about them. Some optimism might come from immigration, which I think brings huge problems lower down in society, but higher up there are various opportunities.
One of the things that may happen is that just as in the Thirties, when we got refugees from Hitler, we may acquire similar people. In all aspects of English life, it's fascinating to look back at immigrants who made a significant contribution. I don't think a book has been written on it, perhaps it has. There were Gombrich and Pevsner, on whom a wonderful book has just come out, Arnold Weinstock in industry and in publishing George Weidenfeld. They and many others of course provided a much-needed revitalising kick up the backside. Now, it seems to me self-evident that Asians, predominantly Indians because of their numbers, but also other groups, such as Iraqi Jews who seem to be curiously prominent in Britain, as well as other innately aspiring people, will just get on with it. I think in ten or 20 years, half of Oxbridge will be full of them and they won't have these ghastly demotivating complexes because we are very complexed as a nation in terms of class and society. And maybe the best and brightest of this huge influx (many more of course than the Hitler victims in the 1930s) will help us shake off our cultural miasma. Some of the free schools with a large immigrant input might produce good people. But for the locals now in their twenties or their early thirties it doesn't look good.
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