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Reader riposte: Well done, old boys!

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COMMENTS

19 May 2008 12:34

Rawdon Dalrymple responds to my post of last week, in which I said of the UK political scene, 'there are plenty of Tory weaknesses for Labour to exploit (including the Etonian background of much of the Opposition front bench).'

Is an Etonian background really an electoral weakness for aspiring politicians in England? There is a strong tradition of old Etonians succeeding in UK politics, the school has become elite pedagogically as well as socially (but don’t discount the latter factor in British politics even today), and if, as Michael suggests, having been there is a political weakness how does one explain why so many of them have been elected to parliament?

The question Rawdon poses — whether an Etonian pedigree hurt a British politician — is one the British Tories will no doubt be pondering very closely.

Both Opposition Leader David Cameron and new Mayor of London Boris Johnson (full name: Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson) come from the same tiny elite: Old Etonians who, while studying at the University of Oxford, belonged to the same notorious aristocratic dining society, the Bullingdon Club. One recent story in The Guardian provided some data which illustrated the unrepresentativeness of the British Opposition:

While in the UK only 7.3% of the population go to private schools, 59% of Conservative MPs were privately educated. Of the 27 members of David Cameron's shadow cabinet, 17 went to private schools. Last summer, a smattering of reports drew attention to the fact that no less than 14 Tory frontbench spokesmen were educated at Eton alone.

Does any of this matter from an electoral point of view? History would reply, along with Rawdon, in the negative: Etonians have had remarkable success in British politics in the past. The question is whether a decade of Labour rule has changed things, and the Brits have grown used to their government looking a bit more like them, and a bit less like this (Cameron is #2 in this pic and Johnson is #8).

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