Alphen, Netherlands. 15 March. One of those peculiarly British spats boiled up this morning. The Education Secretary (Minister) criticised his boss David Cameron for the "preposterous" number of old boys from Britain's poshest school Eton that he has silk hankerchiefed into his inner circle. Five out of the six people charged with writing the Conservative Party manifesto for the 2015 General Elections are 'OEs', one of whom recently told a friend of mine of his contempt for the electorate. This is not only bad politics on Cameron's part, it demonstrates the degree to which the Prime Minister and his clique are out of touch with the reality of the very people he needs to keep him in power.
OEs will no doubt respond that Gove's jibe and my concerns are the politics of envy. And it is certainly the case that some of my best friends and their children either went to or are currently at Eton. However, those that would accuse me of inverted snobbery should pause a moment. For my sins I was one of the first if not THE first Comprehensive School pupil/'oick' to go up to Oxford in 1976.
Gove also had a swipe at 'Oxbridge' in his remarks. When I arrived at University College, Oxford ('Univ') in September 1976 I suffered an enormous culture shock. Indeed, had I not been an athlete I probably would have jacked the whole thing in during my first year because of the appalling upper class, public (private) school snobbery I suffered from some (by no means all). Thanks to a few good people some of whom were indeed public school boys and the US, Canadian and Australian Rhode Scholars I persevered.
However, if I look at Univ today the efforts the college has made to reflect a changing society are legion. Yes, more can always be done but I am intensely proud of Univ for such efforts to cope with 'oicks' like me. Indeed, when I go to Univ today it is much nicer place and for me a better college for it than back in 1976.
It is therefore a profound shame Cameron has surrounded himself almost exclusively with old 'chums' and chums of chums. It gives the impression of a throwback prime minister, a man who is only comfortable amongst his 'own'. Sometimes Cameron's inner-circle exudes the impression of a cast of characters that have escaped from a Tom Sharpe novel suffering from various degrees of noblesse oblige. Or perhaps I mean School for Scoundrels?
Now, I am as critical of the tyranny of diversity as I am of self-perpetuating class-based elites. One only has to look at the way in which 'diversity' has become a metaphor for the Left's growing control over England's judiciary and the promotion in some sectors of mediocrity for the sake of it. Any artificial filters on progression and promotion must be removed.
However, Cameron's anti-diversity is equally inexcusable. By surrounding himself with Old Etonians and perhaps the odd Old St Paulian (I do not know the collective noun for those blessed with an education at St Paul's School) David Cameron confirms the suspicion of many that he is a self-promoting upper-class 'hooray henry' who had a helping hand into the upper echelons of politics and is now doing similar favours for his chums. It is as though Britain is being cast back into the politics of class which profoundly undermines the idea that Britain's best and brightest can make it to the top if good enough.
My own absolute belief is that for Britain to compete and survive in the twenty-first century the Whitehall Establishment will need to be truly open to the best irrespective of class, race, gender or orientation. Too often whenever I attend meetings in Whitehall class is all too apparent. The bosses speak with cut-glass, upper class, Eton (or some other posh school) educated accents. The 'gofers' tend to be from the bourgeoisie or perhaps the lower middle classes. The lower levels? Draw your own conclusions.
The strangest thing of all is that the Whitehall elite are forever talking about 'access' whilst quietly ensuring it is only their own they allow past the pearly gates of power.
Cameron's cliqueism sends all the wrong signals. Cameron's clique is totally incapable of picking up the real signals modern Britain sends.