Tory leader is 'not embarrassed' by Eton, as shadow cabinet keeps quiet over schools

Brian Brady,Whitehall Editor
Sunday 06 December 2009 01:00

David Cameron last night insisted that he was "not the slightest bit embarrassed" about attending Eton, amid claims that senior Tories are hiding details of their private school backgrounds in the face of growing attacks on "privilege" by the Labour Party.

In his first response to Labour's decision to highlight the privileged backgrounds of the Tory hierarchy, the Conservative leader dismissed the strategy and insisted he did not hide where he had gone to school, despite revelations that the vast majority of the privately educated members of the Shadow Cabinet had failed to mention their schooling on the Conservative Party website. Conversely, all but one of the 15 state-educated shadow cabinet members detailed their schools prominently.

An analysis of the information provided by the 31 MPs and peers entitled to attend shadow cabinet meetings showed that 17 went to fee-paying independent schools. Only four mention their schools in official party biographies. Sir George Young, the Eton-educated shadow leader of the House, and the shadow environment secretary Nick Herbert, who went to Haileybury, list their old schools. The shadow security minister Baroness Neville-Jones mentions Leeds Girls' High School, and Kenneth Clarke, who won a scholarship to Nottingham High School, makes a full disclosure.

However, Mr Cameron and privately educated colleagues including Oliver Letwin, Francis Maude, pictured right, Lord Strathclyde, Dominic Grieve and Andrew Mitchell MP chose not to mention their schools at all.

Others, including the shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, pictured far right, and shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Cheryl Gillan, pictured, confused the issue. Mr Osborne's declaration that he was "born and educated in London" did not explain that he had attended the prestigious independent St Paul's. Ms Gillan said she was "educated at local schools until the age of 10", but missed out her time at Cheltenham Ladies' College, one of the leading independent girls' schools.

However, 14 out of 15 shadow ministers who attended comprehensive or grammar schools proclaim the fact on their biographies. The shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, for example, declares prominently that he "attended Wath-on-Dearne Comprehensive School".

Details of the shadow ministers' edited educational backgrounds come as the Tories are particularly sensitive to accusations they represent a narrow, privileged class. Labour has stepped up its criticism by focusing on the moneyed backgrounds of senior Tories such as Mr Cameron and his adviser Zac Goldsmith, son of the late Anglo-French tycoon James Goldsmith.

However, concentrating the attack on the Tories' educational backgrounds is fraught with danger for Labour, as seven out of 23 members of the full Cabinet, plus another three of the five ministers allowed to attend meetings, went to fee-paying schools.

A Tory spokesman last night denied shadow ministers had been advised to edit private education out of their biographies.

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