Elite firms prefer to hire posh. Well, who wouldn’t?

Love or hate the posho, but they can fit in anywhere there is money to be made

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The UK’s elite financial services and legal firms are reportedly operating a “poshness test” that systematically locks out talented working-class people. Hooray, another stick to batter public school kids with. There are so few areas left where we have carte blanche to despise people openly that I feel poshos do us all a great service.

During the election, I noticed it was perfectly acceptable to write, tweet, and shout that privately educated ex-boarding school kids shouldn’t be allowed near government as their childhood had been farmed out to strangers, killing their ability to empathise and love, leaving them as depressing husks of humans, not unlike Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars.

Imagine writing that about any other section of society? “The thing about Comp School kids,” one might say, “is they don’t get good Maths GCSEs and are the product of divorce and too much ITV.” In the long lift-ride down to reception clutching one’s P45, stapler and neon Post-Its in a box, one might reflect on the cruel glibness of this opinion. I am not posh – no one with silver fillings and a passion for Staffordshire bull terriers is – but after 20 years in London spent in the close vicinity of people whose childhoods sound like a rollicking Enid Blyton adventure tale, I must speak out, lightly, in their defence.

Being born posh to people who ship you off to a fantastically expensive school is as much down to life’s lottery as being born to the tragic souls clinging currently to plywood rafts in choppy seas 60 miles north of Libya. No child chooses either life. It is foisted upon them. And while we may lash out time and again at employers for favouring CVs which feature pricey schools where “customers” are hot-housed to be strong leaders, what we refuse to acknowledge is the other, subtler benefits of this sort of schooling – benefits which employers adore.

My poshest friends are hardy things. They left home aged somewhere between seven and 11, dealing from a delicate age with separation anxiety and loneliness, while learning the law of survival in a dorm crammed with bullies, bickerers, bed-wetters and braggards. By default, many of them can weave and bob through any social situation, small-talking, schmoozing, pointing out the prettiness of the curtains, the exquisiteness of the art and, well, oh aren’t these canapés to die for? Love or hate the posho, but they can fit in anywhere there is money to be made.

Situations that make me stabby – communal dining with strangers; hearty team-building events; long, tedious corporate cocktails; interactive performance art; anything where one must show face and make nice – this is where my posh friends roll up their sleeves and go pro.

They are bred to bound into rooms with a wrist-shattering handshake, steely eye contact and a squirrel-with-acorns enthusiasm to show how ecstatic, nay, honoured they are to be invited. Yes, it’s mostly fake, but employers probably don’t care. And, clearly, their costly, expansive, ambitiously hewn education programme doesn’t hurt in building confidence. Greek mythology, the Plantagenet kings, Latin verbs, Dickens, neolithic Britain and scores of other things I’m only learning about now via BBC4 – the average posho has a light smattering of knowledge on them all. Enough to get by anyway, which is all anyone truly needs.

Add to this the rather infectious eccentricity of the ex-Winchester, Roedean or Charterhouse alumni – nurtured on a schedule of hymn-singing, secret languages, house loyalty, point-scoring, flag-hoisting, prize winning and cups – and it’s not exactly bewildering to see why employers favour the posh. Their headmaster informed them they were future leaders. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The most honking elephant in the room is that while the general public claims to love the underdog and cries out for more poor backgrounds and rough diamonds in public life, we are inevitably dazzled and charmed everytime a true posho takes the stage.

Zac Goldsmith, by default, would no doubt make the perfect London Mayor. Not only is he earnest, handsome and beautifully educated, but also because being Mayor of London is one long arduous round of ceremonial ribbon-cutting, nodding in building sites and six-course banquets with foreign trade officials. It is a poisoned chalice of snoozesome committee-attending, budget juggling and sounding happy to be called a prat by cab drivers on BBC London radio. It is a job for a thick-skinned, socially brilliant posho and, to be frank, he’s quite welcome to it.

And obviously, in this tepid defence of my posh friends, I don’t mean “all posh people”, because I’m aware that some, despite all that daddy spent on them, are socially inept porridge-brains.

But then the difference between a brilliant education and a tepid one is that the former allows a person to scan this column and recognise it as anecdotal, speaking in raffish brush strokes, without wasting a full morning on the internet shouting, “NOT 100 PER CENT OF POSH PEOPLE ARE CLEVER”.

Because one of the most employable things about posh people is their ability – thanks to constantly being at the top of the pile – to not have to get tangled up in time-consuming battles to be heard or respected. Posh people tend not to fritter time on the internet – or in meetings, or in industrial tribunals – table-thumping about why they should be treated fairly, as they are already being treated bloody wonderfully, thank you.

As one interviewee in the report about the advantages of hiring posh people said: “I can write. . . an obscure comment in the margin and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. You get my jokes. There’s not a risk that I’m going to offend you by saying something, because we get each other.”

As a commoner, I hate the game, but I still find it difficult to hate the players.

Comments