Friday, 24 April 2015

Not everyone who went to Eton College and Westminster School got it wrong

Not everyone who went to Eton College and Westminster School got things so disastrously wrong in the way that our prime minister, David Cameron, who attended the former, and our deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, who attended the latter, have done. In the field of political thought and public action there have been a few notable exceptions. Eton had George Orwell and has Justin Welby. Westminster had Tony Benn.

These institutions have fostered exceptionally creative figures in other fields, including from Westminster, Ben Jonson, John Locke, Henry Purcell, Charles Wesley, Henry Tizard and Peter Brook, and from Eton, Henry Fielding, John Strachey and Humphrey Lyttelton. However apart from those exceptional exemplars and the others mentioned earlier it is accurate to suggest that over centuries both these ancient institutions have produced rather seedy public and political figures. This is not to condemn the children who are sent to these places. Children attending such schools are not volunteers. They are put there to meet and fulfil the needs and desires of their parents, not their own.

What is being censured here is that schools like Eton and Westminster exist to perpetuate, generation to generation, the undue wealth and power of a small minority. If this is the case, the cruel paradox is that Cameron and Clegg can be understood - if only by this self-privileging few  -  to be getting it right.

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