General Election 2015: It's time we forgot what school we all went to

Do we really wish that our leaders had gone to 'lesser' universities than Oxbridge, or were less well-educated?

Stefano Hatfield
Sunday 26 April 2015 18:37 BST
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26 (Reuters)

So, a week after George Osborne scored points off Labour’s Harriet Harman by pointing out she went to the girls’ version of the same school (St Paul’s) as him before Oxford, here’s Boris Johnson, trying to do the same to Ed Miliband by reminding him they went to the same primary school.

Has it come to this? In a week that the Med filled with the bodies of desperate North African bodies fleeing conflicts we are in part responsible for; that the IMF praised the British; and on the day Labour unveiled a tangible policy around rent caps; our leaders argue over their old schools.

Regulars readers will know Britain’s politics of envy drives me crazy. It is entirely self-defeating; a negative, corrosive narrative that creates a fake context in which non-issues thrive.

So let’s get it out of the way. As you know, David Cameron went to Eton and then Oxford – as did Boris (after Primrose Hill Primary with Harriet). Nick Clegg went to Westminster and Cambridge. That man of the people: Nigel Farage? Dulwich College, and then – skipping university – a City career.

After Primrose Hill, Ed Miliband went to Haverstock Comprehensive and on to Oxford. Ed Balls? Nottingham High School and Oxford. Aussie Natalie Bennett went to an independent girls’ school in Australia and then Sydney university. Nicola Sturgeon went to Greenwood Academy in Ayrshire and then Glasgow university. Danny Alexander attended Lochaber, a comprehensive in the Highlands before – yet again – PPE at Oxford.

Before this lot, Tony Blair was at Fettes and Oxford, Gordon Brown, Kirkcaldy High School and Edinburgh. William Hague? Ripon Grammar and a state comprehensive before, yep, PPE at Oxford; Ian Duncan Smith, a naval training school and Sandhurst; Michael Howard: Llanelli Grammar and Cambridge. Lady Thatcher went to Keveston and Grantham Grammar and then Oxford. Sir John Major, of course, infamously left school with just three “O”-levels. Younger readers can Google what they are.

What’s the point of all this? Bloody good question. Would we want our leaders to uneducated or ill-educated? Do we wish that they had gone to “lesser” universities than Oxbridge?

In the “old” days, what school one went to was a British marker; a safe assumption that the other person was “one of us” – the equivalent of going through Fast-Track at the airport. These days, it is fast becoming a handicap. In the five years I lived in the United States, I never once heard anyone ask anyone what school they went to. “What university” only came up because of shared geographical backgrounds.

Much more concerning than what school our politicians went to is surely the number of them that studied the same subject (PPE) at one University (Oxford) and then never really had a proper job outside of politics. Politics, in isolation, has been their life

If I were Prime Minister, that would be one of the first things I’d change: to insist all MPs had genuine working experience outside of Westminster or Whitehall before they could be an MP. But, I couldn’t change that as PM. Maybe I would need to be King for the day to do so. Now, let’s see, how many kings went to The John Fisher School, Purley? Only ten days to go, people!

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