Alfred P Doolittle perhaps puts it best when he is asked by Colonel Pickering, in My Fair Lady, if he has no morals. "Nah," he replies. "I can't afford 'em, guv'ner."
I wonder if Richard Walden had Doolittle in mind last week when up he popped from his usual role as the chairman of the Independent Schools Association to explain why the lower classes have no morals. It's not their fault, he said, generously – it's just that "[state] schools are turning out too many amoral children because teachers cannot find the time to teach the difference between right and wrong". They're too "overwhelmed by the pressure to achieve results", he said. By contrast, private schools, such as the one of which he is head, the £2,000-per-term Castle House School in Shropshire, turn out "well-rounded" pupils with "moral understanding".
In an interview on Radio 5 Live, Mr Walden was asked three times what evidence he had for these observations, and referred continually to his 40-year experience of visiting "many independent schools" where a "rich, cultural life" is provided. In the absence of any evidence, then, I researched some private schools. Eton alone provided the rich moral education that produced Simon Mann, the co-conspirator with Mark Thatcher (Harrow) in the Equatorial Guinea coup; Darius Guppy, the architect of the fake jewel heist and £1.8m insurance fraud of Lloyd's of London; another insurance fraudster, Lord Brocket, who buried three vintage Ferraris and a Maserati in the grounds of Brocket Hall; and the Nepalese Prince Dipendra, who murdered nine members of his family.
Other privately educated fraudsters include Major Charles Ingram (Oswestry School), the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? cheat; the £1.4bn UBS "rogue trader", Kweku Adoboli; and too many tax avoiders to count. Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in West Yorkshire boasts two serial killers. Meanwhile, Swaziland's King Mswati III, accused by Amnesty International of violating the human rights of women and girls, including their right not to be subjected to forced marriage, was educated at Sherborne, Dorset, while everybody's favourite North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, went to a swish school in Switzerland, where fees are now around £16,000 a year. He left without the equivalent of a single GCSE, so at least we know that his teachers were not overly pressured to achieve academic results.
Mr Walden's hypothesis is ridiculous, then, but it is dangerous, all the same. Alfred Doolittle, you may also remember, was one of the original "undeserving poor" – a group that this government (most of them privately educated) seems determined to label, demonise and blame for all ills. Statements such as Richard Walden's make that process so much easier. Is that the kind of morality that can be bought for thousands of pounds a term?