Don't play Eton class game, says headmaster

Warning for Labour over attacks on public school background of Tory leader

The headmaster of Eton College has spoken of his surprise and dismay that his school is expected to be used as a political football in this year's general election.

Gordon Brown has already fired the opening shots of a campaign to highlight the privileged backgrounds of old boy David Cameron and other senior Conservatives, mocking opposition tax policies for having been "dreamed up on the playing fields of Eton".

Tony Little, who has been head of the £9,617-a-term school for seven years has criticised politicians who have used its name to score points.

In an interview with The Independent, he insisted Eton worked hard to provide places for boys from a variety of backgrounds.

Mentioning the Eton connection is a line of attack Labour is expected to pursue in the election. Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, has also protested that too many of Mr Cameron's close allies are "public schoolboy millionaires".

Mr Cameron, in turn, has been trying to play down his schooling in an attempt to boost his credibility with the general public and avoid being dismissed as an out-of-touch toff.

Mr Little said "one might have hoped" such tactics had been left behind in the last century, but added that he and the school tried to rise above them.

"Depending on where you stand, [Eton] can mean a whole variety of different things. What we focus on is simply doing the best in making the school as good as it can be for as many people as we can," he said.

He insisted that the political squalls affecting the school would play themselves out: "When you are an institution that's been around for 569 years, it does give you a sense of deep-rooted purpose and not bending to whatever the current winds might be. We're here for the long run."

He said caricatures of Eton, the country's largest boarding school, with 1,300 places, failed to take account of its history of offering scholarships to less well-off children since its foundation in 1440. Twenty per cent of boys at the school received financial help, averaging 60 per cent of their fees, he added.

He said he was not surprised so many old Etonians, including the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, Lord Douglas Hogg, Oliver Letwin and the shadow Leader of the House, Sir George Young, were prominent in public life.

"What [pupils] are aware of is that some really interesting people have gone to Eton and made a mark in the world. That does encourage a kind of confidence in you – if others have done it, why not you?"

Toff target: Attacks by Labour

"It's the Eton mob, isn't it? They used to fight their wars on the Eton playing fields. Now they win elections on the Eton playing fields."

John Prescott, 2005

"I don't want to start a class war, but do we really want our country to be run by 20 people who went to Eton?"

Hazel Blears, 2006

"The two Davids [Davis and Cameron] – what a pair they make. While one was on manoeuvres with the Territorial Army the other was plotting midnight raids on Eton's tuck shop."

Jacqui Smith, 2007

"David Cameron's love for Eton knows no limits. He has removed good professional politicians like [former shadow Commons leader] Alan Duncan and replaced them with southern constituency public school millionaires."

Denis MacShane, September 2009

"I have to say, that with him and [Zac] Goldsmith, their inheritance tax policy seems to have been dreamed up on the playing fields of Eton."

Gordon Brown, December 2009

"If they were to win the election, you would have a mayor of London, chancellor of the exchequer and prime minister all coming from a tiny clique who went out trashing restaurants and left large wodges of money to pay for the damage."

Alan Johnson, December 2009

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