Published on 27 Jan 2011

The Old Etonians who STILL run Britain

If you didn’t see Andrew Neil’s programme you can catch it on BBC i-Player (Posh and Posher. Why Public School Boys Run Britain).

He runs a black and white clip of footage from a 1959 Labour party broadcast proclaiming that “13 Tory Ministers wear the same old school tie”.

You may be wondering how many Old Etonians there are in government jobs in 2011. The answer (drumroll) is 12! (Andrew Neil in his programme quite rightly says 8 Old Etonian MPs are in the Government but I’ve thrown in Peers who hold jobs in government too – that’s how, a bit later on in the programme, he gets to the percentage figure of 10 per cent of Ministers being OE’s).

Here’s the list:
David Cameron
Lord Howell (Foreign Office minister)
Henry Bellingham (Foreign Office minister)
Lord Astor of Hever (Defence minister)
Hugo Swire (Northern Ireland minister)
Sir George Young (Leader of the Commons)
Oliver Letwin (Cabinet Office minister)
Nick Hurd (Cabinet Office minister)
Philip Dunne (whip)
Bill Wiggin (whip)
Lord DeMauley (whip)
Lord Sassoon (Treasury minister)

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35 reader comments

  1. PJT says:

    OK, so we have intelligent, well educated people running the country, and your problem is……?

    1. gorsefan says:

      “Intelligent” does not necessarily follow. That aside, the problem is people so out of touch with the people are acting on behalf of the people.

    2. Jim says:

      You miss the point, I’m afraid.’Public’ schools like Eton were only set up in the first place for wealthy, priveleged people to send their kids to, in the sure knowledge that they would have an advantage over the rest of the population.
      Whether old etonian politicians are any more intelligent than anyone else is, of course, highly debatable.

    3. john daly says:

      The point of order is a governments business is to protect its people especially the sick disabled old and homeless this government is bankrupt has no morals scruples and will dissapear with cable and cleggs circus at the next election good riddance to a bad dose of fools who are engineering their own demise. Ta ta

  2. Philip Edwards says:


    A bit rich coming from Andrew Neill, don’t you think?

    After all, if he had his way the cabinet would be full of ex Murdoch hacks like himself.

    But of course it isn’t just the usual motley crew of public school boy spivs. Scratch a bit further and you’ll find the usual motley Oxbridge crew too.

    The tragic thing is these are the same useless, modular barrow boys who got us to where we are now. So the “Big” Society isn’t so big after all, and, plainly, we are not all in this together…….Not unless you went to Eton and/or Oxbridge.

    1. Chas says:

      “The usual motley Oxbridge crew” attained entry to the most academically difficult universities in Britain to get into; two universities which are among the top ten in the world (if not top five) and which teach people to think clearly and critically for themselves. I am very glad that the country is run by “the usual motley Oxbridge crew” but no doubt you would rather have parliament full of John Prescott clones.

      1. Jim says:

        Ole Etonians may be fortunate/rich enough to receive a good academic education, but its a shame that they don’t seem to learn anything about compassion, generosity and co-operation judging from the present governments performance.
        Theirs is a World of greed, selfishness, elitism and competition. All things we would be better off without.

    2. Saltaire Sam says:

      The problem is, Chas, that the usual motley crew at oxbridge tend to come from the usual motley crew of private schools.

      That could, of course, mean that there is something in genetics that means that children of people who can afford up to £30k a year on education, are in fact much more intelligent than those whose parents struggle to make ends meet.

      Or it could mean that we are still living in a country in which your life chances depend not on your ability but between which sheets you were conceived.

      If the 1960s taught us anything, surely it taught us that talent, intellect and ambition are not exclusively found in the sons and daughters of wealthy parents.

      The government is currently boasting about its pupil premium and how much is going to be spent on each state educated child but it is only a fraction of that spent on privately educated children.

      I would like to see private schools abolished, not out of envy or spite, but because all those influential parents would then put their energies in raising the standards in state schools.

  3. Saltaire Sam says:

    Just a coincidence, old boy. We had to take on the job because the erks aren’t up to it. Don’t even know which way to pass the port, doncha know :-)

    I thought Neil’s programme was brilliant, picking up on how the hoped for meritocracy has disappeared. And it was fair in that it showed that all the major parties are caught up in this public school/oxbridge/straight into politics syndrome.

    He also picked out some telling statistics – more graduates from one Oxford college than women in the cabinet.

    Part of his solution is the return of grammar schools to allow the brightest state school kids to compete with those whose parents’ wealth ensures a top education.

    As someone who greatly benefitted from a grammar school education in the 50s and 60s, I can see the logic. But we should find a way of re-introducing the benefits of that system without the return of the secondary modern which was a very second-class system and did no favours to the majority of children.

    1. Tom Wright says:

      Therein lies the rub Sam. Grammar schools created social mobility by giving talented pupils an education comparable to Public schools. The brain’s a muscle – exercise it and it will become stronger. Exercise it young and it sets you up for life: let’s not forget that Eton produces very capable men – shame there is no equivalent for women.

      The flipside of the grammar coin is that they drain the best and the brightest in state teaching talent and pupils, and its a fact that this can limit the chances of others.

      The awful truth seems to be that grammar is the lesser of two evils: removing has reduced rather than increase social mobility.

      Trashing the grammar system was done with the best of motives – fairness and equality of opportunity. Sadly, the result was a crap education for more people, with an unpleasant and disproportionate effect on those from poorer backgrounds: the removal of grammar has not improved their life chances.

      Such a shame the debate never goes beyond policy motive to policy outcome.

    2. Peter Stewert says:

      Grammar isn’t the problem, rather the self-selecting Oxbridge culture that it isn’t a matter of what you know (I’m sure the colleges have many time more than enough applications to accept ten times the yearly in take without lowering entry grades) and more the old story of it being who you know.

      Typical intake of state educated pupils into the Oxford and Cambridge club is sitting at 55% (or so), and with a fair admissions policy you’d assume that this means the spilt in A-level grades between state and private schools reflected this divide. OF course what the admissions numbers reflect is that despite political pressure from within and outside the universities the Oxbridge admissions policy continues to select those that least need the career boost that an Oxbridge education delivers.

  4. Saltaire Sam says:

    It was quite fun to watch Sarah Teather squirm as she tried to reconcile her principles with her loyalty to Nick Clegg and her desire to stay in the cabinet.

    Still, credit to her for appearing and at least admitting ‘a lot needs to be done’

    Just a shame that with all three parties tied into the system, nothing is likely to be done. The toffs are back in charge.

  5. Philip says:

    The political problem is less about what school/university people went to, but the fact that almost without exception these days Ministers – the people who are taking decisions that can massively affect our lives – have virtually no experience outside politics. They’ve never had any sort of real job or any management experience. Most have no idea what it’s like to be poor or feel that your life is almost wholly under someone else’s control. Is it surprising that Government tends to favour those like them: they don’t actually know about anyone else.
    The problem with education is that we have a 2 class system – state and public schools – and academies will just cream off more of the brighter kids, leaving a risk that in 5 – 10 yeats time we’ll return de facto to the old secondary moderns – just at a time when we need to develop the talents of every young person. We need to develop a consensus on education – especially how to ensure that the academically less gfited get the technical training needed – rather than this absurd constant change led by politicians for dogmatic reasons

  6. Syzygy says:

    I agreed with Andrew Neil about everything except his solution!

    Don’t bring back the Grammar schools .. Abolish Oxford and Cambridge.

    The only reason to send your children to private school is for them to acquire the manners and the network which makes them more likely to get into Oxbridge. Those who have made it into the judiciary, politics and the media from state schools, have invariably also gone through the monoculture of Oxbridge. Therefore to diversify our media,laws and politics destroy the institutions which are the common factor.

    1. David Bouvier says:

      Oh very good idea – destory two of the worlds best and most famous university’s to hide how bad the rest of the country is.

      Just perhaps Oxbridge selects smart, successful people who will prosper, and gives them a boost.

      Just perhaps you find rather few people from “bog standard” comps with the right stuff for these universities, however the admission criteria are tweaked. The average Oxbridge academic is desparately concerned to admit students from poorer educational backgrounds, but won’t compromise on the basic intellectual standards of their university.

      The problem really is how few of the people get the opportunity and encouragement to make it there.There is in part a loathsome attitude from some teachers who were never in contention for Oxbridge to tell capable pupils that “you won’t like it” rather than “I couldn’t get in”.

      PS – I send my daugther to a private school to give her the happiest childhood, a good rounded education.

  7. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    As someone who school hymn was ‘I vow to thee my Country’ and lived the sacrifice of being put down when I had the highest marks or having a subject stopped when I excelled at it, or marked as an even with others because they thought I should be at that level, do you not think that the whole system is r’s upards.

    The education system is so narrow and these chumps don’t do very much to widen it, however the system will go on and we will see and hear the drones of those going round and round trying to get to the point of a conversation without being able to fully analyse why they thought something in the first place. It was paid for! Good education my foot !

  8. Andrew Dundas says:

    Tom Wright claims there’s no equivalent to Eton for girls. He may have overlooked both Roedean and Cheltenham Ladies College. Both of those schools are very well-connected and provide excellent education in matters both academic and social that rich parents are prepared to pay for. Thereby perpetuating Britain’s class divisions.
    Eton has good connections partly because there are so many of its graduates in positions of power and influence. That predominance creates a powerful presumption (or delusion – pick your word) that Eton’s outputs should somehow be preferred over others. A very false assumption!
    What is the very real problem now is that the power brokers at the top of British politics prefer careerist politicians for parliamentary selections. That means that few political leaders have any real-life experience of the world beyond public policy making. And it shows!

  9. Tara says:

    Don’t bring back the Grammar schools .. Abolish Oxford and Cambridge.

    That is an interesting view that I have never seen aired before. Usually people suggest abolishing public schools.
    I wonder, though, if other universities such as London or Edinburgh would just take their place in the university of choice for the very ambitious.

  10. Wilma Miller says:

    My son went to Cambridge from a comprehensive school in Glasgow. He got in a year before the Labour government came to power and says he would have hated being given some sort of special treatment to get in. He did languages one of which he practically had to teach himself as there was no-one left in the school who was qualified to teach him in his 6th year. As an experience it wasn’t altogether or completely happy but I honestly don’t think you have to start abolishing the really good unis because so many don’t get in. Surely the biggest mistake was not to give vocational education the sort of status it has in Germany- I’m always on about this because it makes so much more sense than trying to get 50% of the population into university education only to find that at the end of it no-one really wants the subjects they’ve studied?

  11. Praguetory says:

    I think you’ve missed Nick Gibb.

    1. Malcolm Boughen says:

      Nick Gibb was a grammar school boy, we’re told

  12. lincs says:

    Trouble is the whole of parliament is limited as to most industries. How many of the Labour party have ‘laboured’ Just imagine Mandy, doing any real work!

  13. Saltaire Sam says:

    According to the Today programme, even rock’n’roll has been taken over by posh kids from private schools.

    We’re doomed, Mr Mainwaring, doomed

    1. Peter Stewert says:

      Breaking through in to music and the media often means working for nothing and being prepared fit you life around the music/media career, which is fine, but it means you are not likely to have much chance working tables or a shop counter to subsidise your real career. If your parents can afford to subsidise your living costs then you stand a chance of making it, and with the London-bias (and the costs of living in the city) in media/music it often means you parents need to be quite well-off.

      Doomed we are not, but it has been a bit too long since there was a big music scene outside of London and the south. Give it time.

  14. Diane says:

    Wilma makes a very good and little heard point. Engineering is highly regarded in Germany but in the UK it is seen as something dirty and undesirable since someone who cleans the drains can call themselves a ‘sanitary engineer’. No wonder young people don’t want to take it up. They do a degree in Tableware Design instead.

  15. Andreas Stradis says:

    I’m rather affronted by the assumption made here by everyone arguing against Public Schools. The words ‘privileged’, ‘unfair’ and ‘elitist’ are bandied about with no concern for the facts.

    As a public school boy myself, educated at Magdalen College Oxford, then LSE, then a PhD at Bristol, you may think these words apply to me. Well, let me tell you.

    I grew up in Hastings, a very deprived coastal town. My parents decided they were going to send my brother and I to private schools if they could help it, and expended a lot of blood and sweat to do so, running a small catering business.

    At 24, I still go back during the university vacations to help my mother (now aged 61) and my father (70). I simply accept that this is the price I have to pay, and they do too. They made their choices: they have never had a new car in their life, they don’t have 3D or HD TVs, or sport designer clothes.

    The point is, these schools even helped my family financially when we ran into (frequent) difficulties. They are the fiercest meritocracies around (along with grammar schools), being built on academic and sporting excellence. I wholeheartedly defend them, and so will my children.

    1. Jabez says:

      But they all support unelected heads of state and the incredibly undemocratic monarchy.

    2. Arwyn Davies says:

      “Fiercest meritocracies around” – pull the other one, Andreas.

  16. Jabez says:

    PJT Your asinine comments illustrate that you are completely out-of-touch with reality and the need for democratic change.

  17. mr rubes says:

    Gove- privately educated- should lay off state eddication and launch an enquiry into whether posh schools are fit for purpose. Perhaps the only justification for feepaying schools is that they create an elite for all professions. The world’s top shool has produced an over-confident, ‘all I have to do is smile’ PM; London’s top this economically dim, arrogant chancellor. I thot the grammar meritocrats from Heath- Major were bad enough…Gove, is 10K plus per term value added?

  18. Jabez says:

    Tom Wright -“…Eton produces very capable men…”, may be, but no matter how “well connected” you are , it sends out duffers as well, (D minus assisted Geography) for example. Just look at Harry Batten berg AKA Prince Harry, “leader of men”.

  19. Rupert says:

    The problem with the English system is that only a few have access to a decent education. The knowledge of the average Joe is simply shocking, unable to spell, unable to do basic maths, unable to identify a single international geographic feature, etc. This is in line with a broad and all encompasing approach: you must PAY to get something of value. It works to a great extent, the best schools are the best because teachers get paid the most. The population at large accept this reality; as I was once told: “How can you expect state education to be any good, IT IS FREE!”
    There are a lot of good sides to a country/system where you must pay well to receive a service. It means that a below average plumber/electrician can lead a very comfortable life. It means that a guy who calls himself a “joiner” and goes around charging people for assembling their IKEA kits can make a decent living too.
    It also means that standards of knowledge/expertise/craftsmanship are extremely low and rare. Those who posess them can only provide them to the elite at exorbitant prices and become elite themselves to a great extent.
    In a country like Hungary (only one example of many) access to world class education is a bit more generalised but the oversupply of excellent professionals means they get paid very little, so, they just leave the country. To work in places like: The UK.
    In summary: A lot of good things about the way in which the English system works, for example, there are no poor people in the UK (I don’t consider poor someone who lives in a double glazed home and has not suffered even mild hunger exept for cases of negligence or abandonement). But the system also perpetuates the rule of a few and massive amounts of ignorance. Teachers are state schools are as resentful of the lucky well educated ones as the parents of their students are so they all sink together in permanent ignorance, whilst the rich go to private schools and then on to Oxford/Cambridge/UCL/Imperial and on to running the country/Investment Banks, etc.

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  21. T hughes says:

    Eton woefulls indeed

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