Anyone who thinks I’m a bit hard on Britain’s ‘Public’ schools – and the damage they are still doing to our politics and our country – should read the following, from today’s Guardian. It reveals a lot about Boris Johnson, in particular.
I recognise a lot of it from my own school – an ‘Independent’ fee-paying boarding school but with the fees of ‘day boys’ like me paid by the local County Education Authority – and from my Cambridge college, where nearly all my undergraduate contemporaries were from ‘proper’ Public schools. And mainly stuck together, in ‘Old Boy’ groups. As they did in the prestigious and highly-paid jobs they managed to get into afterwards – Civil Service, diplomacy, the Law, Conservative (and sometimes other) MPs, the BBC, Bishoprics, journalism (not ‘reporting’, simply ‘commentating’ on the basis of their ignorance of the world), high up in the Army, on the Boards of investment companies (not businesses that made anything); all of this due in great part to their Public school backgrounds. Which was, of course, why their parents had sent them to those schools originally. ‘OK, little Boris (or whoever): so you’re going to miss our love, and contact with normal human beings, and have your emotional growth – and especially your humour – stunted for good, and develop appalling attitudes toward ‘oiks’ (the lower classes), ‘blacks’, ‘swots’, ‘queers’ and ‘gals’, and have your loyalties restricted permanently to your own ‘kind’… and all the rest. But it will give you a start in life.’ As of course it did; and for Boris most of all. – And a finish, hopefully. Maybe it’s he who will undermine the totally unmerited prestige of the Public schools, once and for all.
It still amazes me that Eton and its like managed to make this amazing comeback into high British politics in the 2010s, when most of us assumed that their day had passed: faded into history along with jousting and the jus prima noctis. Wilson and Thatcher, Grammar School products both, were meant to have presaged a new meritocratic age. Eton, of course, has little to do with ‘merit’, of any kind.
Not, by the way, that the schools conditioned all their boys in this way. I knew a number at Cambridge who were almost normal, and even friendly. I must have been their token oik. And then there’s ‘George Orwell’, of course (an Old Etonian himself). But the general point stands; as well as the puzzle. – To which I could suggest a number of possible solutions. But not just now.