“Toffs vote Tory,” Discuss.

Friday, December 4th, 2009 @ 10:33PM

Am slightly bemused by all the talk about privately educated MPs and the return of class warfare to British politics. (As if it ever left.)

Who cares if Ed Balls and Hilary Benn went to a private school? Do you think aged 11 they had the independence of mind and courage to say “No mummy – sorry, I’m a socialist and I don’t think you should be paying ridiculous amounts of money for my education when there’s a perfectly good school up the road.” Even if they did I’m sure it would have been followed by a good old fashioned, class defying, clip round the ear.

This is not a binary debate about the rich and poor, public education vs private education. Did the authors of these lists consider whether these privately educated MPs were there on a bursary. Or was it in the gift of their landed father, and his father’s father that a place at Eton was secure?

The Tories completely miss the point when they tried to rebut Gordon Brown’s Eton references by pointing to the Oxford educated members of Labour’s front bench.

The Tories seem to think there’s an inherent hypocrisy for Labour to cry class warfare with so many PPE graduates on their front benches. But nobody stops to think about how hard some of them had to work just get there or what their parents had to sacrifice in order for their children to have a better chance than they did.

More often than not, the academic accolades of the Labour front bench are the consequence of ability rather than class. Take Kennedy scholars for example. Labour has four Kennedy scholars on their front bench compared to the Tories one.

That said, I do care about where MPs send their kids. I can’t abide Labour MPs who privately educate their children, unless there is a real issue of national security involved. I find it utterly hypocritical; it undermines the Labour movement and this one in particular really gets my goat.

But I too am in danger of being over simplistic here, especially as in my lifetime the son of a grocer became a Tory Prime Minister whilst a Fettes educated man became the longest serving Labour PM.

The difference is this, the Labour movement believes in the equality of opportunity as a fundamental principle. We believe that the life chances of a child living in Scotland should not be predetermined by the street, family and bank balance they were born in to. We believe the state has a huge role to play in improving life chances, and education is a critical part of that.

The Conservative party in contrast believes in the survival of the fittest, that to tax wealth is to stem growth. A party that believes that cutting inheritance tax rates is a priority over public services. As Gordon Brown jibed, a policy so narrow that the Tory front benchers could probably name everyone likely to benefit from it. Including themselves.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this. Labour will make a grave mistake if we choose to articulate the same “Tory Toffs” message of the Crewe and Nantwich by election. But there is a more refined theme that will work: Toffs vote Tory. Why? Because that is the party who serve their interests best.

David Cameron and George Osbourne, should not be attacked because of their breeding but because of their priorities, allowing the Labour party to shine through as the party for the many not the few.

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