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February 02, 2017



Interesting corollary though - everything you say here about class is also true for gender, with women doing worse than men on exactly the same measures as above for exactly the same reasons. In this context Sands seems like a worse choice of target than Farage or Cameron.


It's not just confidence. It's expecation too. Confidence is thinking you're good, that you will be able to do something. Expectation is thinking you *should* be able to do something, even if you're lacking confidence.

Example. I found the first year or so of my civil servant economist job pretty horrible. But, possibly because my brother had a similar job, I thought it was something I should be able to do - so I stuck at it. Had I been, for example, the first on my family to go to uni, there's a good chance I wouldn't have.

Patrick Kirk

Its not just confidence of the person but also confidence of the people hiring. I'm Irish and from the day I came to England in the 1980s I've noticed that I have had more access to opportunities than the Londoners with whom I worked. For whatever reason, an Irish accent is "neutral" while a local who says "fink" instead of "thing" is perceived as thick.


I heard the interview too and what astonished me was the complete flannel she came up with in answer to the question. In effect she said that there were things in her past experience as a print editor that would be jolly useful - she didn't say what - and that in any case there would be plenty of people at the BBC who really knew the business that she could ask when she needed to. Only those with an inside line could get away with that kind of answer and be taken seriously.


This is a great article. One more thing is that growing up wealthy often you're acting as the boss - telling the cleaner/shop assistant/nanny/builder what you want, and dealing with choosing/hiring/firing people and choosing the best choice of clothes/cars/houses.

Often working class people are just used to being told what to do and make do with what you're given, which gives a different set of skills and expectations.


@ johnb - good point, which might apply to ethnicity too. I honestly wasn't thinking of Sands' gender; I cited her as just the latest example of a cluster of like events.
@ patrick - thanks. I've long thought that what you say is true for many Scotsmen in England. I'm pleased, I think to see it applies to the Irish too.

Dave Timoney

Confidence is an slippery term because it can mean either a belief in the reliability of something or access to restricted information, plus there is a third sense, combining the two meanings, in which confidence implies the membership of an informal group. Thus: I am confident the bus will arrive shortly; in all confidence, the bus driver is an alcoholic; I have the confidence of the bus driver's wife.

In practice, the sort of "confidence" displayed by Sarah Sands is a rational display of the first ("I'm in") consequent on an appreciation of the last ("I'm a member of the in-crowd"). What won't be revealed is the second - i.e. whether she was actively encouraged to apply on the understanding that the job was hers if she wanted it (she clearly didn't send her CV in on spec).

"Top" jobs are rarely filled by open competition, as both Sands and Tristram Hunt know. They are by invitation only.


@chris - Absolutely, I was going to mention race but decided that might be pudding-over-egging, given you hadn't mentioned anyone of colour. I didn't at all think you were thinking of Sands's gender - but as a posh bloke who tries not to be a dick when I'm doing things and who's been in charge of hiring, gender, race and class are all things that have come to mind while doing this.

Obviously, part of that process still ends up that posh white women, posh black men, working class white men, etc, are more likely to get hired than their counterparts who have more than one Axis Of Being Screwed Over.


for an alternative explanation, there is this.

“Tiger, one day you will come to a fork in the road,” he said. “And you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.” He raised his hand and pointed. “If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.” Then Boyd raised his other hand and pointed another direction. “Or you can go that way and you can do something – something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference.” He paused and stared into the officer’s eyes and heart. “To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do. Which way will you go?"


quoted in http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2017/01/dominic-cummings-brexit-referendum-won/. which you've all read because you read this kind of thing.


«But why do posh people get the jobs for which they’re unqualified? [ ... ] people mistake confidence for actual ability,»

That seems to be a factor, but in technical/engineering situations I know that does not work, as competence can be partially checked with subject-matter questions.

My observation is that the poshly educated get the job even if they are not qualified mostly because they are presumed to be able to excel at anything regardless of qualifications, while the non-posh that are confident are held at much higher standards of explicit qualifications because after all they are not among the "best and brightest" and thus qualifications are all they can offer.

Even worse, the non-posh and confident are often considered "uppity", as reported by a commenter on another blog, another non-posh guy with an Oxbridge degree wrt posh guys with lesser qualifications:

«Believe me, pal, a bloke with a regional accent who is self-assured in the workplace is often regarded as "uppity"! What I've noticed about these posh types is that you can't ever contradict them; I've learned to keep my head down and keep doing what I'm told even when I know it's the wrong thing.»


«poshly educated [...] presumed to be able to excel at anything [...] the non-posh [...] are not among the "best and brightest" and thus qualifications are all they can offer.»

The way I have heard that distinction made is between "creative geniuses", and "bulk headcount", said entirely seriously. Usually as between Oxbridge and non-Oxbridge, but there are layers even inside Oxbridge.


What does the word "posh" actually mean?

What is the deciding factor? School, University, Fathers profession?

Plenty of people will say I am "posh" because I have confidence, I'm doing well in my career etc - but I don't feel "posh" because I have no idea what that means.

Harald Korneliussen

"A further reason is that like hires like. In part, this is because a reasonable motive has a less reasonably effect. People need to trust those they hire – especially if they are in important jobs – and we naturally tend to trust people like ourselves."

This isn't just a reasonable motive, it does in fact have a reasonable effect too. Although the optimal thing would be to be able to accurately judge people, when you're better at assessing people from group A than group B, then reasonable aversion to risk makes you pick people from group A all the time. Even if your a priori belief is that A and B are equally qualified, you just don't know what a qualified B looks like.


Confidence tends to come from upbringing and life experience. So decent home, public school, Klosters, private tutors, Oxbridge are one big key. Then as you say there are 'people like us'. We don't smell or pick our noses (in public), we read a broadsheet, we speak decently and don't drag our knuckles. If you want a top job you have to look a bit like PLU even if it means selling your soul. A look at job adverts tells you immediately that the spotty youths who write such stuff have a brief from Bloggs Ltd that can never be fulfilled so they ask for the moon and will be satisfied with anyone with a brain cell who is also a PLU and has the chutzpa to apply.

The question is do we want more 'PLUs' or do we want to keep the club a bit exclusive. Would Great Britain plc be better off with lots of confident, life experienced, tutored and Uni'd types. I don't think the governments can decide, the implications for housing, land use and so on require answering uncomfortable questions. Then there is the longer term and the question of whether we will need a well educated and confident workforce. The mantra says yes but reality suggests - maybe. Add to this the notion of just how educable are humans. Will we eventually be teaching tensor calculus to apprentices from the local time machine factory. Probably not, so let's keep the good jobs to ourselves shall we.


@chris and patrick

I think you've got this a bit mixed up. Sure, Scots and Irish in London have a better chance than Londoners with a proper London accent. But, for the vast majority of us, our accents aren't equivalent to a proper London accent. My experience is that middle class Celts don't have an advantage compared to the middle class English in professional London jobs - pretty sure it's a disadvatage but I'm bias.

That said, Scots did invent most things. Even, according to a recent BBC documentary on Orkney, putting big stones circle. So perhaps it's just you don't appreciate the genious of your colleagues.

Or, alternatively, maybe you're right and we're all Fred Goodwins.


I was amused to be reminded recently that Dr. Jonathan Millar has spent most of his life since beyond the fringe directing plays and then opera. His greatest success as actor and director are activities for which he was never trained and has no qualifications. His main interest in neurology involving philosophical problems that it turns out no one knows how to solve! So in the meantime some neighbour of his who ran an opera house decided to invite him to direct as he thought he might be rather good at it....we are all pleased to see that unlike Cameron he was rather good at it.


«His greatest success as actor and director are activities for which he was never trained and has no qualifications.»

The creative arts are a bit different from other more pedestrian occupations, in those inspiration often matters more than credentials.

But still the case may be relevant to the issue of the confidence that *others* have in someone, rather than their self-confidence. And in particular other people's confidence in someone's "leadership" qualities.

Our blogger's argument seems to me that other people's confidence in someone's "leadership" ability is boosted by the someone's own self-confidence.

My argument is other people's confidence in someone's "leadership" ability is boosted far more by the someone's background as a "person of quality".

Your example may be topical: J Miller clearly was/is a "person of quality". The obvious "brilliance" of "persons of quality" inspires other people's confidence in whatever they do, qualified or not, giving them much wider opportunities. A non-"person of quality" has to *prove* their ability, usually via credentials at first and subsequent relevant experience thereafter, their lack of obvious "brilliance" does not inspire other's people confidence. And this applies magnified to "leadership" ability, as it is hard to acquire "leadership" credentials and prove successful "leadership" experience.

A "person of quality" like S Sands cannot be constrained by petty notions like relevant qualifications and experience; their "brilliance" inspires other people's confidence in her "leadership" abilities in whatever the trivial details of the "leadership" role she gets.


«What does the word "posh" actually mean?»

Well, to get an introduction to "real posh" reading the very entertaining memoirs of W Waldegrave is a pretty good start.

He makes it clear that he was quite driven and actually had talent and qualifications (winning school and academic prizes), but also he is very honestly explicit that a large part of his career was sort of handed out to him because he was a "person of quality" with automatic credibility and access to opportunities way beyond the station or luck of "hoi polloi". He was clearly self-confident too, but does not seem to have enabled him to blag his way in as much as his background gave him other's people's instant confidence.

derrida derider

It's the "a good manager can manage anything" syndrome - which is of course simply untrue. There really is no substitute for in depth knowledge of the particular business.

That and the syllogism "competent people are confident, therefore confident people are competent", which is doubly untrue. Not only is the syllogism logically invalid, the postulate is empirically wrong - true experts tend to be tentative in their conclusions.

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