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State school pupils are 'potted plants', says Tory

Andy McSmith
Thursday 05 October 2006 00:00 BST

One of the leading members of the David Cameron generation of new Tories created a storm yesterday by comparing people who were not privately educated and did not go to Oxford or Cambridge universities to "potted plants".

Jacob Rees-Mogg, who will be fighting one of the Tories' target seats at the next election, also gave the impression that he thinks that anyone educated in the state sector is incapable of writing an "articulate" letter.

Mr Rees-Mogg was asked for his reaction to a survey by the BBC programme Newsnight which showed that 28 per cent of those on the A-list of people that Mr Cameron wants as future Tory MPs are from Oxford or Cambridge, and a majority - 52 per cent - were privately educated. Mr Rees-Mogg, the Eton and Oxford-educated son of the Tory peer and former editor of The Times, William Rees-Mogg, said: "Oxford and Cambridge are world-renowned universities that get the crème of British academic life. It would be absolutely perverse to be biased against some of the cleverest people in the country.

"We don't want to make it harder for intellectually able people to be Tory party candidates. The Tory party, when it's elected, has to be able to form a government and it's not going to be able to form a government if it has potted plants as candidates simply to make up quotas."

He added: "When you go to an MP, you want somebody who will write an articulate letter to the social services or whoever it is to get your problem sorted out."

Mr Rees-Mogg also warned against having too high a proportion of ethnic minority candidates in place. "Ninety-five per cent of this country is white. The list can't be totally different from the country at large," he said.

Mr Cameron's A-list, which is designed to improve the representation of women and ethnic minorities among Tory MPs, has been criticised by traditional Tories on the grounds that it favours relative newcomers, such as the ecologist Zac Goldsmith, who present the sort of image that Mr Cameron wants for the Conservative Party, and discriminates against seasoned activists.

Mr Rees-Mogg's sister, Annunziata Rees-Mogg, is an A-lister, but he was kept off the list, and beat two A-list candidates in the selection contest in the Labour-held seat of North East Somerset, where boundary changes have reduced Labour to a wafer-thin majority. He was helped by the fact that he is a native of Somerset.

The Labour MP Dan Norris, who will fight him at the next election, said yesterday: "These comments show that even with one of the best educations in the world, some people still have a crass and ignorant outlook."

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