Now that Boris Johnson has resigned, the reign of the Eton boy is finally over

Since 1806 Edward Heath is the only elected British prime minister to have no personal involvement with the private education sector – so much for politicians being 'representatives of the people'

Robert Verkaik
Tuesday 10 July 2018 17:32
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Jeremy Hunt replaces Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary

How did we get into such an insoluble mess over Brexit? The British public has been more or less oblivious or unbothered about whether they are ruled by an elite in Westminster or one in Brussels.

There has never been a popular mass movement to leave Europe. Yet there is a certain kind of politician and political fundraiser who has made a career out of bashing Brussels for their own political gain. Step forward Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Arron Banks and even David Cameron who has sporadically put the boot in when it suited him. Many of them claim to be anti-establishment representatives of the people yet they are anything but.

Those who led and funded the charge against Europe come from a very narrow social elite. They were sent to a small number of privileged schools, met at university and mixed in the same circles. Their shared educations instilled in them a drive which put personal ambition before national interest and they were prepared to say absolutely anything that might achieve the intended result.

The resignation of Boris Johnson from the cabinet yesterday gives the final lie to the claim that the former foreign secretary has Britain’s best interests at heart. While our security services were urgently grappling with the murder of a British citizen by the Russian state, Boris was preoccupied plotting to topple the prime minister so he could claim the top job for himself.

Boris Johnson is the product of an elite public school education, peculiar to this country.

An Eton education teaches bombast, bluster and buffoonery. All harmless in the debating chambers of parliament and on TV game shows, but in the real world, where real lives are at stake, such playfulness can be disastrous.

Britain’s public schools started life in medieval times as schools for the poor. Closely tied to the church, they found favour as institutions of social mobility which took bright and pious children from their local community to the government of England.

But they soon became victims of their own success, hijacked first by the aristocracy and then the merchant middle classes, who had profited so handsomely from the country’s industrial revolution. A premier league of private schools, which educated fewer than 3,000 boys, became the academy of the ruling elite which ruled an empire and waged and won two world wars.

Today their influence is no less suffocating. The figures speak for themselves. Only 7 per cent of the population attend a private school. Yet private school pupils represent 74 per cent of senior judges, 71 per cent of senior officers in the armed forces, 55 per cent of permanent secretaries in Whitehall, 53 per cent of senior diplomats, 50 per cent of members of the House of Lords and a third of Russell Group university vice-chancellors. In 2016 more MPs (20) had been educated at Eton College than any other school.

Predicting his own (and David Cameron’s) future political success in 1988, Johnson candidly described the realpolitik of winning votes to become president of the Oxford Union, long seen as a birthing pool for the nation’s politicians.

In The Oxford Myth, a collection of essays edited by his sister Rachel, Johnson said the “most natural” politicians come from “the Establishment”. This he described as a “loosely knit confederation of middle class undergraduates, invariably public school, who share the same accents and snobberies, and who meet each other at the same parties. If you are a member of the Establishment, you will know it. You cannot be recruited.”

My research shows that since 1806 Edward Heath is the only elected British prime minister to have no personal involvement with the private education sector. Gordon Brown, who did not win a general election, is the only prime minister to both attend a state school and send his children to one.

The widening gap between a morass of indebted state schools and the elite private schools means that a child today has less chance of breaking through the class and career barrier than their grandparents born in the 1950s.

Schools which once produced leaders to rule an empire are out of step with 21st century Britain.

Today we want accountable leaders who understand the problems facing a deeply divided country, not egotists and charlatans who can’t see beyond their own self-interest.

Boris’s resignation should sound the death knell for the public school “statesman” who is only interested in governing for himself, not the country.

Robert Verkaik is the author of ‘Posh Boys: How the English Public Schools ruin Britain’

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