Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Toff Guy

Mike Smithson at is speculating about whether Labour's apparent plan to draw attention to the class background of senior Tories can possibly work. That strategy of course failed spectacularly in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election last year, and I share Mike's gut feeling that the goodwill towards David Cameron means that Labour will have severe difficulty making it any more effective in the general election. The irony is, though, that in a way the attack deserves to be effective. Not because an individual Old Etonian has any less right than anyone else to seek an individual high office, whether that office be Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer or anything else. The problem is rather more that we happen to have a whole group of Old Etonians seeking a group of high offices simultaneously. I can already hear the Tory retort - "in the Conservative Party we appoint people on merit, we can't discriminate against people just because they happened to go to the same school". Hmmm. If I (in a parallel universe) became Leader of the Opposition, do you think that line would work for me? If half my appointed Shadow Cabinet had all attended the same comprehensive school as me, would anyone be able to keep a straight face if I asked them to accept that as 'appointment solely on merit'?

Well, quite. So why should be people be any more forgiving - or any less sceptical - just because the school in question happens to be Eton? And yet somehow they are. Suggests to me that class prejudice is alive and well in Britain, and that contrary to the belief of some, it still ultimately works rather more in favour of the likes of David Cameron and George Osborne.


  1. I think the difference is that Eton is one of the best schools in the country. If you and half your Shadow Cabinet went to Skid Row Academy then that would be strange. Eton? Not so much.

    It's a bit like Gordon Brown, only the 5th PM not to have gone to Oxford or Cambridge. A remarkable coincidence? No, they're just bloody good universities is all.

    I think the class attacks will backfire spectacularly on Labour and do not deserve to be effective. We need them to talk about issues, not this puff.

  2. Jeff, I trust you're not suggesting my comprehensive school was Skid Row Academy! A very healthy percentage of graduates come from state schools these days anyway - the days when there was any rational cover for such blatant elitism at the top are long gone.

    The percentage of people in this country who have been to Eton - and remember we're talking about one school, not just 'any really good private school' - is absolutely preposterously tiny. To me the fact that half the Cabinet might come from that single rarefied atmosphere can't be a healthy situation. And it ends up becoming a rather circular, elitist argument -

    "Look here, I'm a bit concerned that your leader is not appointing people on merit, they all seemed to go to his old school".

    "I can assure you he's appointing solely on the basis of merit".

    "How can you be so sure?"

    "Because all these people went to Eton, and Eton's a GREAT school. You're far more likely to have MERIT if you went to Eton."

    Jeff, I'm all for Labour being forced to discuss serious issues, but that doesn't mean they haven't got a point about this. In a way I'm taking a leaf out of your book by giving them credit where credit is due! But as I said earlier, I agree that this line of attack won't work for them in practice - mainly because most people seem to think David Cameron is a likeable sort of guy, and like Tony Blair in the early days, they'll cut him more slack than he really deserves.