The Bullingdon Club: it’s Oxford University’s most notorious secret, not so secret, society. A dining society to be exact. A secret dining society that recruits only the elite gentlemen of the future. Eton, Harrow, Winchester: these posh public schools make up the very foundation of the club itself. Necessary criteria for the infamous initiation process include speaking only the Queen’s English and holding out your pinkie finger whilst drinking tea. If you can do that, you’re in. Welcome to the club.
Expect antics so wild, outrageous (and potentially illegal) that even unshakeable Boris Johnson squirms with regret at his past membership activities. Despite these questionable pass times, the members of this old boys’ club have gone on to gain serious positions of power, including ex-PM David Cameron, former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne, and even mild-mannered BBC stalwart David Dimbleby. How is such a troglodytic, very much deplorable club so inexplicably linked to the very apex of the social ladder?
The Club itself is ancient - formed more than 200 years ago as one of Oxford University’s ‘expensive and exclusive’ original cricket teams. By the late nineteenth century, the cricketing aspect of the Club had begun to wane in importance, as the dinners earned the Club its notoriety. Vandalism, amongst other illegal activities, became commonplace in the Club with cash accepted as immediate payment for damage. A recent example of this loathsome tradition would be the vandalism of the fifteenth century White Hart pub, near Oxford, in 2005, where seventeen bottles of wine were smashed, and four members arrested.
But why? Why would men of such high standing and ‘finest’ manners be so intent on smashing up student rooms, local restaurants and pubs, and anything else they can get their hands on?
Perhaps this bad behavior could be the result of a tightly controlled upbringing. Some people who are full of pent-up anger and frustration, in moments of freedom, release their negative emotions in the form of vandalism. Just looking at the daily uniforms Eton students are forced to wear (tailcoats, striped pants), could offer insight into why momentary madness might be necessary. Or maybe it’s a direct result of the arrogance and privilege that accompanies those who find themselves part of the upper class, a pervasive attitude of being able to get away with anything, because money and power will always prevent any real consequences from emerging.
This superiority complex and sense of entitlement can also be applied to society at large and explains why many members have gone on to gain positions of power. Members of the Bullingdon Club recognized the safety net that vast amounts of money, power and influence can provide, and so acted recklessly, without care, because they knew they could easily overcome any obstacles that might obstruct their path. Boris Johnson would be the perfect example of this, as he very much embodies this entitlement - sacked from The Times newspaper for fabricating a quote, before quickly repositioning himself as editor of The Spectator. This would have been career-destroying for most people. The same tale can be told for other members who have also found themselves embroiled in scandal yet have felt no repercussions, likely due to their position in society. This needs to change – if one of us is accountable, all of us should be, regardless of class or monetary wealth, social standing or whether you are a member of the Bullingdon Club.
It was recently reported, as of 2017, there were only two members left to the Bullingdon Club. Many at Oxford now abominate the Club and its elitist nature, and it seems as if the Club is on the decline - the film The Riot Club particularly highlighted how the demise of the Club does seem inevitable. Even if this is true, I believe we should still call into question why those who do wrong, and seemingly have such a disregard for others, are still allowed to remain at the top.