If we learned one thing alone from Margaret Thatcher’s death (which we did, too mired were we all in a social media clusterfuck quagmire of moralising self-righteous right wingers and pseudo-intellectual smug lefties for anything worthwhile to be gained), it’s that there are few figures in British political history who, whilst being lauded as a hero by many, have the capacity to inspire such great levels of rage in others.
Politicians minced their words, with Ed Miliband et al (genuinely, who can tell anyone in the Labour party apart anymore; they’ve all morphed into an enormous non-committal blob) saying that whilst they disagreed with what she stood for, you had to admire her transformative impact, just as you’ve got to say that the Greeks really changed the face of the city of Troy with that Wooden Horse of their’s.
However, there was less magnanimity on display amongst many regular people who opposed Thatcher; street parties broke out in Brixton, Glasgow and Liverpool, NUS delegates cheered the news of her demise, and ‘Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead’, a song sung by Munchkins, absurdly managed to make the pop-charts into a political hot potato. Few other political figures can or will inspire such feelings of vitriol in so many. And she was one of ours!
Thatcher was initially rejected in her attempts to study Chemistry at Somerville, and only gained her place after another candidate withdrew. Studying between 1943 and 1947, she snuck away with a Second-Class honours, no doubt sidetracked by her forays into OUCA, which saw her made President in her penultimate year. And thus, the political behemoth that inspired as much fury as she did admiration after her death last week, was born. For all its sins, Oxford University truly does churn out an unparalleled quantity of widely-recognised grade A bastards.
Only time will tell as to the legacy of the last two British prime ministers, Tony Blair and David Cameron, to grace the halls of Oxford. However, the fact that the former’s Middle-Eastern excursions brought about Britain’s largest peace-time demonstrations and the latter has already witnessed street riots, the likes of which had not been seen since The Iron Lady was still in number 10, it’s a safe bet that their deaths will see at least some half-hearted revelry. Tony studied Law at St John’s in the 70s, and fronted a band called Ugly Rumours (which was also the working title for the Iraq dossier) and dated future American Psycho director Mary Harron. Dave was a PPE-ist (obviously) at Brasenose (obviously) and was notoriously a member of the Bullingdon Club. The picture of an imperious-looking Cameron in his £1,200 Bullers tailcoat causes our Premier “great embarrassment”. Unsurprising given the tramp-baiting, restaurant-trashing behaviours with which the society has become synonymous and the other rogues who’ve been part of the exclusive dining club. German nobleman Gottfried von Bismarck was a member in the ‘80s too, and was given an £80 fine for drug possession after an heiress was found dead from a heroin overdose in his Christ Church rooms. Alan Clark MP (the only member to ever be accused of being drunk at the dispatch box) and Darius Guppy (jailed in 1993 for staging a faked jewel robbery and claiming £1.8million from the insurers) also donned the pricy tailcoats.
Another Buller, and one of only two British monarchs to attend Oxford, was Edward VIII. Entering Magdalen after serving as a midshipman on the Battleship Hindustan, the future king was not exactly Oxford material (how on earth did he make it past the admissions, ey?) and left midway through his third year without any academic qualifications. Edward would go on to cause the greatest constitutional crisis in modern British history, abdicating the throne as he wanted to marry divorcee Wallis Simpson, and thrusting a woefully underprepared Colin Firth into the hotseat. That alone gained the monarch significant infamy, but he earns his place in the Oxford Hall of Shame for his sympathies to a certain moustachioed German dictator, giving full Nazi salutes during his 1937 visit to the Third Reich and, in the 1960s, telling a friend that “[he] never thought Hitler was such a bad chap.” Bless.
Why does Oxford have the ability to produce so many controversial figures? Part of the answer is that the very fact they went to Oxford is part of the reason they’re so controversial. It’s easy to use the fact that a politician went to Oxford as evidence that they’re out of touch, or to cite time spent amidst the dreaming spires as an irrefutable mark of undeserved privilege. Those are sometimes fair criticisms; it’s difficult to take Dave and Gideon seriously as they tell us that “we’re all in this together” when you also have photos of them in their Bullingdon Club uniforms. But more than that, Oxford provides a proving ground for all kinds of wrong’uns, a veritable smorgasbord of trial-runs at climbing the slippery pole. Ascended the OUCA hierarchy? A safe seat in the Home Counties will be a piece of piss. Tab editor? Future Leveson fodder. LawSoc big dog? Cocaine awaits you, my friend! As well as attracting single-minded and smart Machiavellian types from the go, Oxford gives them a crash-course in tahe skulduggery needed if you’re to become a bona-fide hate figure. So when you watch the BBC news coverage of the protest parties that interrupt Thatcher’s funeral, just think, if you work hard enough, maybe in half a century’s time people will be celebrating the fact that you’re dead! We can but dream.
Oxford’s other notable rogues:
Rupert Murdoch, of phone-hacking and being-hit-with-a-foam-pie fame read PPE at Worcester. During his time in Oxford he managed Cherwell’s publishing house, Oxford Student Publications Limited.
Jeffrey Archer picked up a teaching qualification from the Continuing Education department, after studying a course based at Brasenose (meaning he’s was never actually a proper undergrad). Archer, a Tory MP-turned-novellist, was imprisoned in 2001 after being found guilty of perverting the course of justice during a ‘90’s libel case.
Bill Clinton spent 1968-70 in Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, during which time he famously “did not inhale” marijuana. Clinton became only the second US president to be impeached, following a sex scandal. He was subsequently acquitted by the Senate.