Anthony Eden at Eton, 1910: All 18 members of his Cabinet went to public school; ten went to the same school as the Prime Minister
David Cameron's government is the least patrician, least wealthy and least public-school-educatedÂ â€”Â indeed the least EtonianÂ â€”Â Conservative-led government this country has ever seen. Fewer of the current crop of Tory MPs were born into wealth and privilege than ever before. More are reliant solely on their parliamentary salaries and many fewer have significant outside earnings than would have been the case for Conservatives MPs in any previous parliament.
This is not, of course, the conventional analysis. It is now almost de rigueur to claim that this government, indeed the country, has come to be dominated by a small coterie of Old Etonian chums only occasionally admitting the odd oik from another leading public (i.e. private) school just to make up the numbers. Labour leader Ed Miliband inveighs against an out-of-touch upper-crust government of millionaires who are doling out tax cuts to themselves and their wealthy friends. It is intoned with apparent seriousness that the Cameron administration represents the old aristocratic, or at least plutocratic, Macmillan-era ruling class reclaiming the institutions which it lost control of during the Thatcherite interregnum.Â
It has been arguedÂ â€”Â most explicitly in Martin Durkin's film Margaret, Death of a Revolutionary, broadcast on Channel 4 in AprilÂ â€”Â that Mrs Thatcher should be seen as a working-class revolutionary who overthrew an ossified, consensus-seeking, landowning upper-class clique to push through the radical reforms that Britain needed, and that she was supported in this endeavour by tough-minded intellectuals of working-class origin. According to this narrative, Margaret Thatcher's fall should be seen as the revenge of the toffs against the working-class radicalsÂ â€”Â and Cameron as the final triumph of the old aristocratic order.Â
The only trouble with this superficially rather appealing analysis is that it is, quite simply, tosh. Mrs Thatcher's defeat of Edward Heath for the Tory leadership in 1975, as Charles Moore shows in his authoritative biography, was not a peasants' revolt with theÂ garagistes taking over from the landed interests. There was no class element to the 1975 leadership battleÂ â€”Â toffs and arrivistes were found on both sides. The perception of class conflict only emerged later, predominantly through the semi-comic musings of the writer and ultra-wet Tory MP Julian Critchley.
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