With the Conservative victory in the local elections, and Boris's election to the London Mayoralty, the left are looking to try the 'Tory toffs' card for all it's worth. To be fair, they do seem to be running out of alternatives. John Harris, who also wrote a marvellously whiny post-election article, has written about
the apparent lock-down of the Conservatives by public schoolboys. It's hampered a bit by Harris's inability to entertain the possibility that one of the reasons that the proportions of public school entrants to Oxbridge may be because the public schools really do produce better students than the state sector, but it's not altogether worthless.
He also touches on something, briefly, that really goes to explain all this:
Not, of course, that the Tories' political opponents are without their silver-spooned elements. Last year, the leadership of the Liberal Democrats was contested by Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne, both alumni of Westminster School. Such high-ranking young(ish) Labour ministers as Ed Balls, James Purnell and Ruth Kelly were educated at fee-paying establishments; indeed, at the last count, just less than a third of current government ministers went to private schools.
He also cites, at the end of the article, this figure. Of the 52 prime ministers since 1721, only 12 have not been privately educated: 18 have gone to Eton, seven have gone to Harrow and seven to Westminster.
It's not really a very useful figure in that form: there was no non-private education until the very end of the nineteenth century. Perhaps a more useful (ahem) article was published in Attain Magazine in the Spring
. Modesty forbids, etc, but the more interesting figure is surely this:
In the first sixty three years of the twentieth century, there were 14 Prime Ministers of Great Britain. Of these, ten had been to public school, five to Eton alone.
In the years since 1963, however, there have been seven Prime Ministers. Of these only one, Tony Blair, was privately educated. The years 1963-2008 have been politically dominated by the state sector. Now, however, as Harris points out, it is the public school that is in the ascendant. It's worth finding out why that is. Outright class privilege is unlikely to be the primary reason. Far more likely is what Alan Milburn identified - the educational collapse of the state sector. Harris mentions Balls, Purnell and Kelly. He doesn't mention Harman, Clarke, Jowell and Jack Straw. The vein of grammar school talent that has served both main parties well for forty years looks like it has been exhausted.
Labels: education, politics