Monday, April 29, 2013

Etonians, education and power

click photo to enlarge
I saw in my newspaper the other day that Jesse Norman MP thinks Etonians (products of Eton public, i.e. private, school) are dominant in the government because other schools do not have the same "commitment to public service". When I read it I was dumbfounded that someone who had received that gilded education didn't understand the purpose of places such as Eton and the main reason why parents send their children to them.

He might think it's to receive a good education. So might you. But you'd be wrong. The main reason is to maintain or to improve the social position of the individual. This is done by the schools not only charging high, riff-raff excluding fees, but ensuring they are very effective exam factories at which pupils get high grades (not the same as a good education), passes that will allow them to apply to Oxford or Cambridge, or at the very least, to one of the Russell Group of universities. Importantly, they also give pupils the opportunity to mix with others of the same advantaged background, to network with people who have similar aims, and with them to move into jobs of power and influence where they will earn a lot of money. In such advantaged circles it often means that who you know trumps what you know, that jobs can be offered by grace and favour, and that interviews may be formalities rather than the sifting process they are for the most people. Far too many of our current crop of politicians have benefited from this process and seek to confer its advantages on their own children.

The idea that Etonians have any more "commitment to public service" than the products of state schools or even other private schools is risible. I never came across any of Eton's finest when, during the course of my job, I met social workers or other mainstream public sector workers. Politics used to be seen by many aspiring MPs as a way of serving the public but today voter disenchantment is, in part, because the main motive now appears to be self-serving aggrandisement. I think that the Etonians who go into politics are no different from politicians of different backgrounds in this respect. A while ago I spoke as a member of a panel at a meeting about the forthcoming general election. At one point the discussion turned to education. I said that what I didn't want was another crop of politicians to be elected that came from the same so-called elite schools and universities because they had no understanding of wider society and lacked the skills necessary to move our country forwards. I remember a fellow panellist (echoing the man who is currently prime minister) saying that a politician's background isn't important. Nothing I've seen from this incompetent Coalition government has made me change my views that it does matter enormously.

Jesse Norman's words came to mind as I was processing this photograph of London's City Hall, a shot I took on my recent visit to the capital. I remembered that another old Etonian, Boris Johnson, is currently mayor. I'd say bad luck London, but the voters have seen fit to vote him in twice. To me that says much about the level of political understanding and engagement in the UK. What people have forgotten is that Old Etonians and their kind flourish and the rest of us languish when the voting public pays little attention to politics and is more interested in celebrity, status and the status quo.

For a couple more of my photographs of Norman Foster's building see here and here.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 20.4mm (55mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/640
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation:  -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On