IT’S Friday morning. Mrs Dorfman and I are sitting with daughter number one, waiting for proceedings to begin. Our son is graduating with a Masters degree so we are all done up in our finest.
It’s nice to “shep naches” and Jake has done very well, but at times like these I do envy parents whose children haven’t gone down the university route.
This is the fifth graduation I’ve attended of our children. Every ceremony is mind-numbingly boring and a pain, both metaphorical and literal, on the old toches.
Why can’t they just call you in for five minutes to see your darling offspring receive their degree and then you can go?
Instead they make you sit through speeches about the university, then more speeches about the students and then watch hundreds of other kids of all nationalities and with unpronounceable names queuing up for their big moment.
Mrs Dorfman says I’m being selfish, but even she looks glum when she remembers Jake’s first degree. We had to sit for two whole hours while some bloke in a gown and funny hat persisted in reading extracts from the Shanghai telephone directory.
And you have to clap every one of them!
But today is special. We are in a very fancy place this morning: Guildhall Great Hall in the City of London. It is the size of a cathedral and has a similar ambience. There are impressive paintings along the walls.
The front row is plastered with “reserved” stickers, but three of them mysteriously disappear into Mrs Dorfman’s handbag, enabling us to sit on the front row alongside assorted VIPs.
The ceremony doesn’t start for another 15 minutes so I get up and wander over to the huge marble sculpture nearby.
It is dedicated to William Pitt, who was prime minister for three years in the 1760s. The lengthy inscription informs us that he was a great statesman, a fine orator and that he bashed the French during the Seven Years War.
Turning 180 degrees, I spy another marble sculpture on the wall opposite. I guess correctly that it is dedicated to William Pitt’s son, also called William and more commonly referred to as Pitt the Younger.
When your dad has been an outstanding prime minister, it must place a heavy burden on the children.
Readers may recall that Tony Blair, at 43, was the second youngest prime minister ever. That’s because Pitt the Younger entered No 10 aged just 24, stayed there for 18 years, then took a sabbatical for three years before returning as PM for another two years.
He died in office aged just 46 (probably from exhaustion!).
Bashing the French was obviously in the Pitt genes because, as the citation on his marble tribute reminds us, the younger Pitt devoted himself to repelling an expected invasion by Napoleon.
I return to my seat and after delivering a short, impromptu lecture to Mrs Dorfman and other international guests in the front three rows on the life and times of the Pitts (which goes down exceedingly well), I am urged to sit down so the ceremony can begin.
All the students collecting their degrees are bright, bushy-tailed and in their early to mid-twenties. Yet I can’t imagine that any of them thinks he or she is ready to walk into No 10 tomorrow (unless they went to Eton).
I don’t believe that being prime minister was such a doddle 200 years ago that any posh aristocrat could do it even if they had only just finished university.
Britain was nearly always at war back then. Foreigners were invariably plotting either to invade us or seize our colonies. The Pitts might think that given the challenges they had, Theresa May has it relatively easy.
Though the stakes aren’t as high, I suspect the job of running Britain is much harder today. The Pitts didn’t have to bother about public opinion since few people had the vote and if anyone got too shouty they could be arrested and charged with sedition.
Soldiers would fire on demonstrators who weren’t 100 per cent happy with their “elders and betters”.
Mrs May doesn’t have these powers. Everyone can vote now and there are noisy demonstrations every week all over the country.
The French are still being difficult, but you can’t despatch the Royal Navy like in Pitt’s day just because Monsieur Barnier won’t do as he’s told.
We’ve hardly got any ships anyway since there’s not much money left to defend the realm after all the benefits paid out to folk, many of whom shouldn’t be getting them.
And I’m sure there’s something in these EU treaties which prevents us fighting the French. The Pitts would be appalled!
But I think there are two things in particular that make this country increasingly ungovernable in ways that the great men of the past would find incomprehensible.
First, mass immigration coupled with identity politics have weakened national solidarity. If we did have to fight the French today, half the country would be demonstrating against it — probably in Trafalgar Square!
Second, social media has allowed a small but vocal minority to spew out hate against anyone they dislike or disagree with, thereby further exacerbating racial, religious and social divisions. And they can do so anonymously. How can any prime minister govern such a fractured nation?
The Pitts had it lucky; they only had to fight the French.
Poor Mrs May and her contemporaries must sometimes feel they are fighting everybody.
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