WHEN I was eleven I sat and passed the Eton Entrance, where one of my forbears had been provost and most of my predecessors had been educated. But my war-scarred father, despite my mother taking him to court, was determined that I should not be educated among what he called ‘shits and stockbrokers’ and I was sent instead to Stowe.
Note for those not in this loop: Stowe is considered by we arrogant Etonians to be a rather third-rate public school.
It is easy to see how Eton still acts as a shorthand for privilege and elitism, invoking occasionally rabid class envy.
Or just a pure, but covert, jealousy; people wish that they had been there.
This week at the Labour Party conference, chairman Hazel Blears could not resist mocking David Cameron’s Eton connection while pointing out her father had been a fitter and her brother drove a Manchester bus.
Now, you can call me an arrogant snob if you like, but I think that it is weird sort of a world when people make a point of how common they are; it is indicative of how enamoured by the average we have become in this country. Once again, I am reminded of a song that my father wrote (and one of my all-time favourite lyrics):
Politicians bestride a stage
Where mediocrity is all the rage.
So, Hazel, you were not priviledged; do you think that that fact makes you better than me? I don't think that I am better than you. Well, I do actually, but not because you are working class, but because you are an awful, embittered, ignorant little bitch.
We can expect a lot more of this smearing of The Establishment if Gordon Brown gets his hands on the brass levers of the junction box of power. Like foxhunting, Eton is an easy target for class warriors. But, like foxhunting, this hatred is wide of the mark.
Yes, but it makes an easy sop to the rabid, jealous, old fucks like the dreadful, drooling Roy Hattersley (never trust a fat socialist, children; it only means that his hypocrisy is evident to all).
For all the fairytale genealogy that David Cameron may have a pedigree stretching back to Hagred the Unready, he is in fact the normal product of aspirant parents. His father was even a stockbroker, although there is no suggestion he was also a shit.
That's not entirely true...
Only in Britain can a school of undisputed excellence - where there are plenty of assisted places for the bright male offspring of fitters and bus drivers - be so vilified.
Quite. Eton has an extensive portfolio of scholarships (many of them worth 100% of the fees, and the least worth 25%) and bursaries for bright working class boys. These schemes are now one of the few chances for working class children to gain themselves a good education.
When Gordon Brown takes his summer holidays in Cape Cod, he is surrounded by Harvard alumni and not even he would criticise their accolade as one of unjust privilege and wealth.
That is because, like all fundamentally common people, Brown equates wealth with class. Wealth is one thing, class is another; you can be as poor as a church mouse and still have class (like myself. Netch'relly) or be as rich as Croesus and have absolutely no class at all (witness the phenomenon of the much disparaged nouveau riche).
If Tony Blair had actually got the nation to understand the three Rs, perhaps there would no longer be a need for private education. As things stand, most parents, wishing their children to have only the modest hope of a university degree and some form of professional employment, would sell themselves into prostitution to send their child to public school.
As I have pointed out many, many times before, it is not simply the academic results that people send their children to the prime public schools for; it is the opportunity to do metal sculpture, or decent drama, or build a car (as one lot did in Design Technology) or play sports or study music technology or... any number of other things that 99% of the country never get a chance to try.
It is about opportunity in all of its senses; I get quite cross with those who view the worth of schools purely on their ability to do well in exam league tables. Very many schools come far higher than Eton in these measures, but they do not make available the opportunities to do things outside pure academic work that Eton offers.
Let us take this gentleman, upon whom I commented last night, who enjoys his car maintenance.
What he enjoys is the hands-on nature of the motor vehicle maintenance he is learning - something he could not do at school.
"In school you are learning out of books. Here you are learning on the real thing - I prefer doing things to reading books," he said.
Absolutely; as a matter of fact, I feel that way myself. But, had he been at Eton might he not have combined both? I got through a lot of boring lessons by consoling myself that at least in forty minutes' time I would be able to go and spend four or five hours with my oxyacetylene torch, angle-grinder and as much steel as I wanted. Would this 15-year-old have benefitted academically from this opportunity? The answer is, of course he would.
State schooling has failed not only on the pure academic front; it has failed to stimulate opportunity and interest in other things. State education has failed in developing young people's potential, and the introduction of purely academic league tables has only made it worse. Education is not about pure book learning, for fuck's sake: this is why we separate "education" and "academic learning".
The state - and Hazel Blears - should not be showing envy but gratitude that private schools relieve the secondary education system of more pupils and even larger classes.
Exactly; there would be more people in the state system—in Edinburgh, about 45% of children are in private education. Can you imagine what would happen to the state sector here if private schools were abolished tomorrow?—and, crucially, no more money than at present.
Those parents who can afford the fees have never risen up and asked for a tax rebate for not sending their child into public education.
But you should hear the Lefties squeal when you propose that, in under a voucher-funded schooling system, parents would be allowed to use those vouchers to pay towards a private school education. Those Lefties really don't like that at all.
What is it about Eton that socialists (and my father) so dislike? Is it the wearing of tailcoats, the assumed effortless ease or arrogance?
Most people I have talked to think that most public school people are massively arrogant, but that Etonians are the worst. However, this tends to be when they have just left their insulated environment; most OEs have mellowed in time (although, obviously we think that we are good. You can't get into Eton just by waving your wallet around, you know; you actually have to be clever (and, often, talented, e.g. music scholars. One of Eton failings is that, whilst it has one of the best and most well-equipped art departments in the country (including the dedicated Art Schools), it does not award Art Scholarships (unlike Tonbridge School, who offered me a 50% art scholarship award if I went there)).
Is it the supposition that these pupils-who are undoubtedly privileged in the true sense-will never have to suffer the travails of the fitter and the bus conductor?
Probably. But it is a supposition based on jealousy and an ignorance of the true facts, no more.
There is some truth in this. I once had an Etonian editor whom I asked to define poverty. It was, he told me, being so poor he could only afford the matinee cinema tickets on his gap year in Paris.
Well, it's lovely that that is the definition of poverty to some. My definition of poverty is not being able to afford to eat for five days.
I think what Hazel Blears has in mind is the old fashioned Tory families who send their children to Eton who in turn go off to the Foreign Office or return to their estates, seamlessly untainted by the necessity to get on with other people on anything but their own terms.
Whilst this does happen occasionally, it is mostly a myth. As I said, ignorance.
But this is not David Cameron.
In many ways, Cameron is typical of the new Etonian and exactly why the school should be cherished and not condemned. He has always worked, and has fulfilled his parents investment in his education by putting himself forward for public office.
The modern Etonian is not simply drawn from the families of The Establishment. They win Grand Nationals, become eco-warriors, try to take over distant countries, and add to the gaiety of nations.
But then, they always have: who, for instance, has not thrilled to the trials and tribulations of Ranulph Fiennes? Or been amused by the rather less than above board antics of Darius Guppy? Or the various lunatics of my old neighbour Bear Grylls? They entertain and others have contriubuted massively to the sum wisdom of the human race.
And, yes, most of them today, I would venture, come from parents of the professional classes of the law, medicine, stockbrokers and even journalism.
True enough. And, of course, fraudsters.
No doubt should Gordon Brown be the next prime minister, the charitable status of public schools will once again be looked at. In between establishing a written constitution and giving the House of Lords another good kick, why not unravel the public schools that have produced, by and large, pupils of duty and public service?
Bitterness, jealousy, personal spite and the other characteristically unsavoury motivations of the Left.
One of the bent beliefs of socialism is that all men and women are born equal.
It is a conerstone of the most fundamentally stupid socialists, yes.
But, as Dr Johnson so wisely observed: “there is always in life someone better than us.”
Quite, and they act as a spur to ourselves. Or they used to before people became proud of being stupid, ignorant and unambitious.
I have, since my own denial of an education at Eton, sometimes felt the sentiments expressed by Hazel Blears, as I observe another languid Old Etonian do nothing but drop into conversation where he was schooled. But when I hear her using it as a sly stick of class hatred, I find myself redoubling my efforts and feelings in the school’s defence.
Good, because Eton, and the others, are all worth something.
Plus, of course, if you destroyed them, on whose fields would the state school children play?