Eton Mess

Well, one good thing – the public schoolboys have gone. (From the new Cabinet, that is.) Apart from Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, who is there, I presume, to clean up the international mess he’s made. Or as a punishment, for the ‘cad’ he is: like Tom Brown being roasted by the school bullies in front of a fire. (Except that Boris would deserve it.) We’ll see how that goes.

Public schoolboys really are a menace in public office. Eton seems to regard it as a mark of distinction that it has provided so many British prime ministers in history – Cameron was the 19th – but that’s hardly to its credit, for two reasons. The first is that it’s not the school that got them there, but the privileges and connections they brought with them to the school, and the not-necessarily-deserved kudos the name of the school bestowed on them. The second is that Eton’s prime ministers ought surely to be judged on how they perform in that role; and so many of them, up to and including Cameron, have been duds. The earlier ones included some goodies, including Walpole, Pitt, Canning, Gladstone and Salisbury; but it was easier when they were only expected to rule for their class, and keep the plebs under control. Then came democracy, and the quality immediately declined: Rosebery, Balfour, Douglas-Home and Cameron – with only Macmillan, in my opinion, leavening the dough. I imagine that’s because they were so out of touch with the mass of the people they were governing, apart from as servants and tenants. Osborne’s (St Paul’s) whole incumbency at the Exchequer, and his extraordinary belief that the ‘threat’ of lowering house prices would turn the general populace against Brexit, illustrate that. Quite apart from Bullingdon, and the dead pig-fucking thing.

I’ve no idea what they teach them at Eton nowadays – or, more to the point, in Cameron’s time. It all used to be Greek and Latin bolstered by ‘character forming’ team games and buggery, but I’m sure it’s changed now. I’ve given talks on History at a number of Public schools in the past (though not Eton), and have been impressed by their pupils’ reception of them, but without gaining much insight into what sort of History was on their everyday syllabuses – any social history, say? (I was there to talk about imperial history. They seemed at home with that.) The right sort of History can broaden boys’ and girls’ empathy, and compensate to a degree for their limited social upbringings. All I can say is that there’s little sign of this in the Public school products we see in Government today. Any exceptions in the past have usually picked up their social ‘empathy’ elsewhere: Attlee (Haileybury) through his work in the East End ‘settlement’ movement; and he, Churchill (Harrow) and Macmillan (Eton) from their wartime experiences with the ‘ordinary’ troops. Not from their schools.

So, well done Theresa. (Apart from Boris.) And well done, too, for the great Corbynite speech you gave on your succession, which, if you can do all those things – reduce inequality, curb the banks, ensure the economy works for all the people – will probably leave Corbyn with not a leg to stand on. Of course I’m still worried by a lot of her past baggage, dragged along from her stint as Home Secretary: especially her positions on surveillance and human rights. But again, let’s see.

Getting rid of the toffs is a great thing. But of course it doesn’t solve our problems on its own. For a start, it’s not the toffs who have been the original source of our oppression, but the bankers and other assorted capitalists, using the upper-upper classes for their own purposes. Secondly, based on my experience at Cambridge, you don’t need to be a genuine toff to be toffish. On my college ‘high table’ were a few Fellows of ‘lower’ birth and education, most of whom, however, aspired to be upper class, and for that reason adopted upper-class attitudes more zealously than those who were born to them. The latter could relax, and be quite reasonable and radical at times; the ‘grammar school oiks’ however needed to prove their Tory credentials. They were the worst. (Not me!) Some of them may be in Theresa May’s cabinet.

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One Response to Eton Mess

  1. TJ says:

    The public schools have served a purpose for the Left, as a symbols of class privilege and in providing recruits, partly no doubt in reaction to the values taught at these schools. The Tory cabinet is now full of grammar school people, another group told at 11 they were part of an privileged elite, reinforced by these schools which aped the public schools in every way they could.

    Liked by 1 person

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