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Breaking the old boys’ network

When you look at their backgrounds, is it any surprise that Johnson and Cummings hold the lives of the working class in such little value, asks ROBERT POOLE

WAS THERE ever a better time than now to abolish Eton and its ilk? 

Yet again, we’re seeing another private school alumnus breaking the rules and having his back covered by someone from the old boys’ network. 

Old boy of the 600-year-old Durham School Dominic Cummings, and senior adviser to Old Etonian Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, appeared on TV this week to explain why he broke lockdown. 

Not to apologise or show any form of contrition but, like a schoolboy called to the headmaster’s office, explain how the dog ate his homework. 

In his book The Lion and the Unicorn (1941), George Orwell wrote: “Probably the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton, but the opening battles of all subsequent wars have been lost there.” 

Our current Old Etonian overlord has appointed a Cabinet which is 64 per cent privately educated — a figure twice that of Theresa May’s Cabinet — and we can see what a great job they are doing at the moment of confirming Orwell’s belief. 

It’s not just the Cabinet, though. When we look at the statistics, although only 7 per cent of the population attend private schools, we can see that private schools are grossly overrepresented in the top jobs. 

Some 43 per cent of FTSE 350 CEOs; 44 per cent of newspaper columnists; 59 per cent of Civil Service permanent secretaries; 65 per cent of senior judges. 

Drawing our most influential people from such a small and select group is a dangerous way to run a country. 

Simply attending private school is a ticket into the top jobs and prestige universities. 

The argument put forward for a long time, the myth we’ve been sold, is that we live in a classless society and that we live in a meritocracy. 

This is, of course, just that — a myth. Although on the surface it would seem that those that are privately educated deserve their places, when we dig deeper we see that state school pupils with similar A-levels actually outperform their privileged peers at university. 

This shows that the effect of spending 300 per cent more on your children’s education is actually very short-lived. So why bother? 

Durham School’s website describes its “mission” as being to “provide its students with a complete education; one which instils in them an aspiration for achievement, a respect for others and a confidence for life.” 

Although he has definitely achieved number 1 and number 3, I think Robert and Morag Cummings should ask for a partial refund as number 2 has not been met. 

This, though, is exactly what private schools do. They give those at the top of society superior resources and opportunities to ensure their position is secured. 

They then tell their wards that they are the best of the best, the creme de la creme. 

Their inevitable successes are then attributed to their innate abilities, ignoring their advantages and privilege — further entrenching their confidence in their right to rule. 

The other thing the wealthy are paying for of course is social segregation. To afford the chance to educate their children away from those of the working class. 

What this means that there is actually very little mingling of the classes in society. 

What we have is two worlds occurring in parallel, with the degree of interaction limited to the elite’s aloof governance of the rest of us. 

With this segregation existing how can we ever really have an understanding of each other?

Although Cummings would like us to think he’s a man of the people, on the side of the working class against the Establishment, the truth is very different. 

His recent actions have shown this. He did as the wealthy and the privileged have always done when a plague hits the nation — he ran away to his residence in the country, his argument being that it was isolated and he could take walks in the estate’s private woodland. 

This is a far cry from the working class he claims to speak for, trapped in their tower blocks and care homes while Covid-19 rampages through the streets.

A report in the Sunday Times alleged that Cummings said the government’s strategy should be “herd immunity, protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad.” 

This callous disregard for human life, where the working class are treated as “human capital stock,” it would seem, is instilled at an early age in some private schools. 

On Eton’s website can be found examples of its exam papers for the King’s Scholarship meant to be taken by 13 and 14-year-old children. 

One such paper has a situation posed in which the army has killed 25 protesters. The question reads: “You are the Prime Minister. Write the script for a speech to be broadcast to the nation in which you explain why employing the army against violent protesters was the only option available to you and one which was both necessary and moral.” 

Is it any surprise then that Johnson and Cummings seem to hold the lives of the working class in such little value?

Let’s take this crisis as an opportunity to redesign society. Let’s start with the integration of private schools into the state sector. Open up these engines of privilege. Let the working class see what their “betters” are really like and let the upper class learn that the working class are not just capital in human form but flesh and blood. 

It won’t solve all of the problems of inequality in Britain but it might go some way towards smashing not just the glass ceiling which stops the upward mobility of the very best but also a glass floor that is stopping the downward mobility of the very worst. 


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