Friday, 16 March 2012

The ruling classes

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Stanley Baldwin on how he picked his first Cabinet: "I decided to have six old Harrovians in it," he said. I had forgotten this story and was delighted to come across the quotation again and remember a time before television, feminism and all the horrors of the modern age. He also gave as a reason for not offering Lord Birkenhead a position, 'We are a cabinet of men who are faithful to their wives and want to keep it that way.'


Harold Macmillan said in 1959: ‎'Mr Atlee had three Old Etonians in his cabinet, I have six. Things are twice as good under the Conservatives.' This is very Macmillan, apparantly a joke but really simply snobbish. Boastful too. Much funnier and more snobbish (and possibly anti-Semitic) was his remark that Mrs. Thatcher had more Estonians than Etonians in her cabinet.

Great Britain afterwards, in the 60s and 70s, moved from snobbery to inverted snobbery or at least journalists did. Douglas Hurd in 1990 when charged by a journalist with the offence of being an Etonian: 'I thought I was standing for the leadership of the Conservative Party not some barmy Marxist outfit.'

And now we are back to public school men leading the Conservative and Liberal parties. Briefly while Harriet Harman, who is the pretty daughter of an Earl, was Leader pro tempora of the Labour Party, Prime Minister's Question Time had the agreeable flavour of a light romantic comedy by the late lamented (at least by me) William Douglas-Home. The reason of course is the abolition, for egalitarian reasons, of most selective schools. This has  made it very much harder for people like me from modest backgrounds to get a decent, middle-class education. The 60s, 70s and 80s were the in many senses the Era of the Grammar School Man and Woman, although public school men always were vastly more powerful.

But the men educated at Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Marlborough, Charterhouse and Rugby, civilised, agreeable and public spirited though they are, presided over the devastation of England after 1945. Churchill was too old after 1945 and most of the rest too purblind. 

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