Andrew West
December 6, 2005 01:14 PM

A British-based reader, James, who is genuinely a student at Cambridge
University, has emailed me about what we might call the “ambiguous”
nature of Foreign Minister Alexander Downer’s educational
qualifications as listed on his official biography and referred to in
yesterday’s column.

The foreign minister claims to have been educated at “Radley College,
Oxford”. But as James points out, this does not mean the exulted
University of Oxford.

Hi Andrew,

Just a quick email to clarify what you said were Downer’s “pretensions
to a classical British education”. I noticed that you amended fairly
quickly from him being ‘educated’ at Oxford to him being ‘passed over’.
(WEST: Yes, I did amend it because I, too, was initially fooled by it.
So read on.)

I also noticed it a few months ago, and thought it odd, and your blog
made me realise how deceptive Downer really is. His official biography
could, for the uninitiated, mistakenly read like Downer attended the
University of Oxford, listing his college affiliation first as is
customary at Oxford and Cambridge (i.e. Bob Hawke was a Rhodes Scholar
at University College, Oxford)… except for the fact that there is no
“Radley College” as a constituent part of the University of Oxford.

There is a Radley College in Abindon, Oxfordshire (situated, as its own
web page describes it, five miles south of Oxford), which appears to be
a relatively obscure, “independent” boarding school, but hardly a
world-class institution of higher education.

The University of Newcastle upon Tyne [which Downer did attend] is a
perfectly legitimate, but hardly academically eminent, university, so
one wonders whether the aristocratic affectations of Downer inspired
this little C.V. ambiguity. How many times has Downer told people he
was “educated at Oxford” without being more specific? Rather

I also notice that he doesn’t specify what degree he obtained at each
institution. Another ambiguity designed to portray him as an Oxford

The silly thing is that no one should really care if Downer had
attended Oxford University or not. The day of the Oxbridge old-boy
network getting an automatic political shoe-in are, we hope, long
behind us. The sad thing really is Downer’s dubious attempts to imply
an affiliation (WEST: imply but NOT claim) with a prestigious
institution when none in fact exists. (I believe Lord Archer was caught
out doing exactly the same).

I wonder if his biography will suddenly be clarified, and the ‘shire’
added to the ‘Oxford’? And if it doesn’t, does Parliament have any
rules about providing such ambiguous information on an official C.V.?

I can’t believe this fool is Australia’s foreign minister. Foreign
diplomats must be laughing all the way when they are briefed on him!