So what exactly is a baronet? We need to know to understand, in these class-sensitive times, following hard on “plebgate”, whether the appointment of Sir George Young, Bart, as the UK Government’s Chief Whip upsets the delicately crafted social balance of the British Cabinet. Is Sir George a bat’s squeak more posh or a smidgin more plebeian than Hampstead-born, Rugby and Cambridge-educated ex-Army officer and former Lazards banker Andrew Mitchell?
Young is well loved as the gentlemanly bicycling baronet, his copybook slightly blotted by his witty apothegm: “The homeless are what you step over when you come out of the opera” – often quoted out of context, as here. Those were more vulgar, more Thatcherite times. The Conservative party is now, of course, intensely relaxed about the filthy poor.
But back to the baronetcy. Behind it lies a shocking tale of snobbery and social climbing, naked patronage and the original cash for honours scandal.