This book takes the reader through the experience that generations of those who attended public schools underwent, an experience intended to prepare them for leading roles across society. Written during lockdown, the author tells of his own schooling, from being taken away from home at the age of eight to board at a prep school, then later to one of the country’s leading public schools.
He goes beyond his own personal story. He interviews old boys. He uses publicly available online sources such as old school magazines and even TV documentary series made at the time he was at school. This builds a picture of how those who have played a leading role in the Conservative party and government for the past two decades were educated. For me there are three important threads that are intertwined throughout: the extent of the conditioning imposed on the children, the power that publicly educated men and women still wield across society today, and why it is that so many of our institutions remain stubbornly racist.
The level of conditioning that was applied to young children was shocking, as the schools systematically broke and remade them. Whilst the schools sought to make their students: courteous, honest, useful, happy and confident, it seems that, for some, the opposite of these attributes is more likely to mark them as a privately educated adult. A common coping strategy appears to have been to tell their parents, their teachers and their friends what they wanted to hear. Alarmingly, it seems that, from an early age, those who have been conditioned to lead us became well practised at lying.
“Compliance was more important than critical thinking, excellent training for backbench MPs. No lie is untenable however hard to believe.” (p.233)
Competition became central to almost everything.
“Like prisoners when we weren’t being beaten we were being asked questions (p.98)
Winning or doing well became a substitute for the love that would have surrounded them at home. Doing well in class or sport meant that you would be liked at school, and gain the approval of distant parents. The need to be liked, and gain the approval of others is very much part of the conditioning.
The children were also growing up in their own bubble, with little access to the world beyond the grounds of the school, totally oblivious to national or world events as the schools controlled access to the news.
Class loyalty ensures that safe Tory seats lay waiting as they always have, to be occupied by those with a public school education. The pathway to senior appointments in public service is also much easier. The author references David Turner’s “The Old Boys” which shows that in 2014, access to top jobs was much easier for those with public school education.
|Positions in Public Service||Educated in public School|
|Senior Officers in the Armed Forces||60%|
|Leading Media figures||50%|
The author describes walking through the grounds of Radley College in Oxfordshire with grand facilities such as: a theatre, an observatory and a rowing tank, he recalls how the headmaster would write to parents asking for donations for such prestigious facilities. Meanwhile one of the Radley Old Boys, Mark Carlisle, openly admits that as a Minister for Education his primary role was to reduce spending on schools, no doubt fully aware of the detrimental impact that cuts would have on those being educated in state schools.
Rules are of course for others, not the privately educated elite. A young David Cameron was sent home from Eton after being caught smoking marijuana, he was duly allowed to return the next term, zero tolerance is for others, and if found out by the school there was of course no need to involve the police.
There is little of real note in the first half of the book but the second half opens the reader’s eyes to a world in which racism and fascist ideology seems to be largely unchallenged. In 1983 Radley we find mock hustings for the election (p.148), for the first time these included two parties other than the Conservatives: “The Radley Right Wing Party” and “British Union of Fascists” with the latter campaigning to deport all blacks. Then there was the teacher at Dulwich College in Southeast London who wrote to the headmaster advising against making Nigel Farage a prefect. “The boy has professed racist and neo-fascist views”, whilst another teacher conceded that Farage was a fascist, but wrote “that was no reason why he would not make a good prefect”
Referring to the works of Hannah Arendt and George Orwell, the author draws parallels between England today with the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century.
Orwell set out the hierarchy of inequality at the core of fascist ideology within pre-war German Society. The author, two years before Gary Lineker’s tweet compares Orwell’s hierarchy with that found in England today. I’ve summarised both in the table below.
|1930’s Nazi Germany||21st Century England|
Conquered white people
|Public School Educated |
White English speaking foreigners
White Foreigners (European)
Brown, and black people
Today much of Europe looks at Britain in puzzlement over BREXIT, but decades earlier Arendt in “The Origins of Totalitarianism” had the answer, when she wrote about Nazi Germany being
“Mad enough to discard all limited and local interests, economic, national, human, military in favour of a purely fictitious reality in some indefinite distant future” (p.233)
Some of the conditions for dictatorial rule outlined by Arendt can also be seen here…
“Lies and reality are confused; the stateless and refugees are treated with contempt” (p.235)
Later the author adds “at least the Chief of Police is not yet among the most powerful public positions in the land” but that hope was dashed when the Home Secretary instructed Parliament to pass new laws days before the coronation to give the police powers to suppress those organising demonstrations against the monarchy.
Read the book, join the dots, and wake up to fascist Britannia.
By the end of the book we can see how a privately educated elite control the institutions that keep themselves in power. The author turns again to Orwell who decades ago set out what needs to change.
“The English electoral system … is an all but open fraud. In a dozen obvious ways, gerrymandered in the interests of the monied class” (p.249)
“… abolition of all hereditary privilege, especially in education” (p.256)
It is clear that the struggle to build a fairer more sustainable society needed to address the climate emergency will continue to become increasingly more disruptive and violent until the barriers preventing a representative and accountable parliament are removed.
Not surprisingly few conservative politicians and commentators understand this. They were outraged 250 years ago at the thought of taxpayers in the New England having representation, again a 100 years later when women demanded the vote, and just 2 weeks ago at the idea that Europeans and young people who live and pay tax in this country should be able to take part in elections. The lesson that Taxation without representation is Tyranny appears not to have been covered in their highly privileged education.
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