Richard Sharp: a model man of power

February 17, 2023 7 Comments

There’s been a lot of talk lately about advances in AI (artificial intelligence) and ML (machine learning), based on the storing and analysis of vast reservoirs of online words (the so-called ‘large language model’).  The publication of ChatGPT, which can respond in a conversational and explanatory way to natural language queries, has set teeth on edge.  Will teachers find it impossible to distinguish essays written by human students from those produced robotically by ChatGPT?  Will researchers employed to summarise current thinking on a subject find themselves out of a job?

As John Naughton has pointed out, some of these anxieties are overplayed.  AI chatbots don’t actually possess intelligence.  They rely on automatically identifying statistical distributions of words in combination, and on truths outnumbering lies.  In reality they’re not much more than an extension of conventional search engines, with lists of websites replaced by (dangerously uncited) prose.

All the same, I thought it would be fun to try out the capacities of ChatGPT, with a question that I imagined might test it to the limit.  This is what I asked it:

Dear ChatGPT

I’m curious about what it takes to be a successful man of power in today’s Britain. (Yes, I do mean ‘man’.)  Could you please tell me what are the ingredients of a Master of the Universe?  Maybe you could answer by constructing an archetype or perfect model for me?’


After thinking for just a few seconds ChatGPT gave me a reply.  This is what it said:

Dear gwallter

Thank you for your interesting question, the most intriguing I’ve had all day.  Actually, it’s not very difficult to find the answer.  All the sources seem to agree on the recipe you ask for.  So here goes.  As you suggested, I’ve built a real-size model.  For the sake I’ve argument I’ve given him an imaginary name, ‘Richard Sharp’.

To start with, if you want to engineer the ideal Man of Power, it helps if you start in the south-east of the country.  Well, south-east England, to be precise, and preferably London.  That’s where most of the power and wealth lives, after all.  More important, though, is Richard’s family.  (Some people still talk about Britain being a ‘meritocracy’, but few really believe it: family wealth and its reproduction are crucial.)  Let’s call Richard’s father Baron Sharp of Grimsdyke.  He was, we’ll assume, Chairman of Monsanto and then Chairman and Chief Executive of Cable and Wireless.  Not a bad start in life for Richard.

Next, education.  I recommend one of the better public schools, perhaps Merchant Taylors (annual fees £23,600), followed by Oxford University.  I’d send the young Richard to Christ Church to read PPE.  He probably won’t grasp the philosophy, or much of the economics for that matter, but the politics in the middle will be valuable.  PPE, and Oxford in general, is a kind of finishing school for Tories who aspire to rule.  Education isn’t really the point.  What matters is the nexus of social connections to help your career, and the unbreakable self-confidence to carry you through life.

Third, a job that will set Richard on the right path to power.  There’s no better start than a career in big banking.  Banking is almost the only profession left that holds any cachet or future, and it has the added advantages of holding virtually no social purpose and being closely connected to politics.  I’d suggest J.P. Morgan to begin with, followed by Goldman Sachs and maybe some other investment companies.  These will be nicely lucrative – I’d guess he’ll be worth £500m by the time he’s fifty years old – but crucially they’ll give Richard even wider access to people who matter (or will matter in future).  We’ll assume that a prime minister-to-be, is his trainee at Goldman Sachs.   That might prove useful.

Then there are the extra, side-jobs, that will equip Richard with a shiny reputation for pursuing public good: a spell on the Bank of England Financial Policy Committee, perhaps, advisor to the mayor of London, chair for five years of the Royal Academy of Arts, and helping out with a charity or two.

So far, so good.  Next, some financial cement is needed. I’d suggest a chunky donation to the governing party, say £400,000 to start with, enough to guarantee plenty of leverage in future.  It wouldn’t do any harm, either, to become a director of the Centre for Policy Studies, to show commitment to the government’s ‘project’.  Puritans and purists might regard this behaviour as bribery or corruption. But of course it’s really no more than normal historic practice.

All this activity should easily enable Richard to land a plum job in the gift of the government, say Chairman of the BBC. The pay is £160,000 a year, part-time – small change for Richard, so he’ll give it away to charity.  The job isn’t, of course, quite a sinecure.  He’s placed there to make sure that the BBC toes the government lines in all important matters, and becomes more ‘accountable’.  The Director-General is also a government supporter, so that shouldn’t be difficult.

Of course, it won’t all be plain sailing, even with all the silver spoons and favours Richard will have collected by now.  He’ll probably make mistakes.  Like, maybe, failing to declare a good deed he did to the then prime minister just before the latter appointed him as BBC Chair.  But he’ll know instinctively how to brazen out any ‘scandal’ opponents try to pin on him.  Suppose he’s called to explain himself before a select committee of the House of Commons.  He’ll be able to treat the MPs with haughty arrogance, as the little people they are, daring to question his judgement and standing.   A phone call to his protégé in No. 10 will be enough to produce a public statement of support.

And even if he loses that battle and has to leave the BBC, an unlikely event, Richard will probably glide with little effort to the next position in the parade of power.  You’ll notice that a knighthood and a place in the House of Lords have both eluded him so far, but there’s time enough for that.  And if not, there’s always more money to be made in the banks and hedge funds of the City of London.

I hope this imaginary picture of the ideal contemporary Man of Power meets your needs.  Please let me know if you’d like more information or advice.


I must confess I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of ChatGPT’s response.  Maybe you could question some of the details, but its picture of the Man of Power strikes me as remarkably lifelike, and revealing of how UK plc works.  In my next query I might ask ChatGPT whether there’s any real difference between how public life works today and how it did in the days of Sir Robert Walpole.  That might tax its algorithms a bit more. Or maybe not.

Comments (7)

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  1. Elizabeth Thomas says:

    Blimmin heck. That’s amazing. Spooky!

  2. Chris Armstorng says:

    Nice one! But ChatAG missed out Comic Relief!

  3. rita tait says:

    Great read!

  4. Gillian Lewis says:

    Clever, really enjoyed that Andrew

  5. Heather Williams Thompson says:

    Very informative and pertinent to today’s news about comments made by a BBC sports presenter.

  6. Chris Edwards says:

    I think Gwallter need not fear being replaced by AI any time soon.

  7. Eurostar Passenger... says:

    And now apparently helps a close friend get a job – £1,000 per day was it? – advising on ethical standards.

    On a quite separate point, has Gwalter considered adding ‘master criminal’ and ‘serial offender’ to his metadata blog categories?

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