William Cobbett (1763-1835) was a farmer, journalist and radical MP who relentlessly attacked the ‘Old Corruption’ of British society before the 1832 Reform Act. This was a world where people held key and well paid posts because of who they were or who they knew. Quite often the actual work was done by someone else.
Cobbett’s attacks on ‘The Thing’ were by no means straightforward to the modern world. He was for example anti-semitic and often criticised ‘pensioners’ by which he meant those in receipt of a living from the State even though they did and had done little or no work for it.
EP Thompson encapsulated the Cobbettian worldview in the Making of the English Working Class. Describing Cobbett’s intervention in the 1806 election for the Westminster seat in the unreformed Parliament, he noted how Cobbett summed up the opponents of the radical candidate:
‘relations of placemen and pensioners’, ‘tax-gatherers, magistrates, policemen and dependent clergy’, ‘play-actors, scene-shifters, candle-snuffers, and persons following.. immoral callings’.
200 years on George Osborne’s appointment as the Editor of the London Evening Standard fits well the Cobbettian world of 200 years ago. Progress it is not.