You are here:   Blogs >Nick Cohen > Anyone But Balls (1)
Standpoint Blogs
Nick Cohen
Wednesday 19th May 2010
Anyone But Balls (1)

The first in what will be a long-running series on why the Labour Party should elect anyone other than Ed Balls.


1.     Does Britain really need three public-school party leaders?

 There is no area of life in which English hypocrisy is on more gorgeous display than in education. The combination of an egalitarian state system and a selective private system is a rich parent's dream. If his children are bright he can pay for them to go private. If they are dim, he can still use his money to secure advantage by paying to move into the catchment area of a good comprehensive.

It ought to be clear in retrospect that the abolition of the grammars was the biggest favour Labour did to the rich in the 20th century because it knocked out schools which produced pupils who could compete with wealthy children.

 To make matters worse, a view has taken hold among leftish educationalists, that anything which helps bright state school kids is "elitist" and must be stopped.


In my Observer column on Sunday,  I quote a Labour minister


The left cannot be too preachy, however, and it must accept its responsibility for once. Since Labour began the abolition of the grammar schools, a politically correct bodyguard of pseudo-egalitarians has protected the rise of the new ruling class. Former ministers told me how when they tried to introduce programmes to allow the clever children of the working and middle classes to thrive, teaching unions and Department for Education civil servants, who ministers knew sent their own children to private and grammar schools, damned them for their "elitism". It was as if the headmaster of Eton had bribed leftish educationalists to nobble the competition.


All of my minister's programmes were then wound down by Ed Balls when he became education secretary. Balls is a former pupil of Nottingham High School, one of England's leading private schools with fees of nearly £9,000 a year. Now I'm sure he did not think to himself that he must do everything possible to stop working and middle class children competing with his class. Doubtless he dressed his actions up in the language of egalitarianism. But the effect was to reinforce the advantages of private schools. As the Sutton Trust has documented, in politics, the media, law and academia the former pupils of private schools are everywhere in ascendant. The great change of the last 30 years has been to wipe out the advances in social mobility.

You can see this most clearly in politics.

Nick Clegg is the son of a rich man who sent him to Westminster.

David Cameron is the son of a rich man who sent him to Eton.

George Osborne is the son a rich man who sent him to St Pauls.

David Laws is the son of a rich man who sent him to St George's College.

Chris Huhne is the son of a rich man who sent him to Westminster.

Oliver Letwin is the son of a rich man who sent him to Eton

 If Labour elects Ed Balls we will have yet another son of a rich man at the top of politics. Cannot the 93 per cent of people in this country who did not go to a private school be represented at the top of politics? 


Like this article? Share, save or print using the icons below
Delicious   Digg   StumbleUpon   Propeller   Reddit   Magnoliacom   Newsvine   Furl   Facebook   Google   Yahoo   Technorati   Icerocket   Print   Mail   Twitter   
June 16th, 2010
10:06 AM
Nick. Good comments. To make matters worse many public schools started to improve their academic standards from the late 70s early 80s. The pass rate for the Common Entrance Exam to Eton increased from 50% to 65%. One father I spoke to was reconsiderig his son to Ampleforth because he did not think the academic standards justified the fees: he had attended the school himself and desired the same for his son. After the Big Bang in the City many jobs which had gone to public school boys with only O or A levels ( see character in 4 Weddings and a Funeral)suddenly required degrees from good universities. As fees increased and job requirements became more strenuous, private schools had to greatly improve.Those academically poor boarding schools which had relied on pupils whose parents were working overseas (armed forces, diplomatic services, engineering companies )struggled post mid 80s as many organisatons reduced the numbers working overseas and/or stopped paying fees. Hence many academically poor boarding schools closed. If one compares Eton and Harrow, the latter has greatly improved it's academic standing while the latter has not, to the same degree. Not only do working class and lower middle class children not receive the education they would hav obtained if they had attended grammar schools but those attending private schools today are better educated, trained and prepared for entry into universities and the professions than they were 30 yrs ago.

June 8th, 2010
10:06 AM
"If his children are bright he can pay for them to go private. If they are dim, he can still use his money to secure advantage by paying to move into the catchment area of a good comprehensive." This statement is absolute nonsense. The thing about private education is it gives the dumb kids of the wealthy much better opportunities. Oxbridge is full of pretty stupid students who happened to go to very good schools and have benefited from the many benefits of these places. I should know, I study there!

May 25th, 2010
4:05 PM
@ AlanRM I was a fan of David Miliband until last Saturday at a Progress event when I asked him a simple question about why he should be the leader of the party and, potential, the country. Rather than answer my question he dismissed it with a joke. I thought to myself that he was truly lacking the necessary human touch and not as bright as perceived by the media. If he was clever he would know that such a question once destroyed the chances of a US presidential candidate during televised presidential debate. I will now be supporting his brother with my vote.

David Cooke
May 25th, 2010
2:05 PM
And Nick Cohen is the son of a man who sent him to read PPE at Oxford! Assuming that Nick did not go to public school, it demonstrates that you don't need a public school education to succeed!

May 24th, 2010
6:05 AM
I don't like Balls, but please anyone but David "Banana Man" Miliband. Blair reborn - pompous, elf-satisfied, vain, vacuous, self serving - also a devout coward who tried so often to deliver the coup de gras to Brown but flunked it each time. Defender of torture. And that silly Mandy-inspired "Next Labour" crap shows what a twit he is.

May 23rd, 2010
8:05 AM
Shjirley Williams and Richard Crossman were (I think) the chief perpetrators of the beginning of the ruination of education in this country. Socialists (or anyone) whose notion of the infallibility of their doctrines are deeply dangerous. I benefitted from a grammar-school education and, to my shame, failed to take advantage of the enormous range of opportunities it offered. Still, even the bit I did make use of has stood me in good stead. My daughter was due to move from middle to upper school while the teachers were pursuing one of their bouts of striking. Unlike them, we felt that her education was rather more important than any principle, but we could not afford private fees, so we traded-down the modest, suburban house for an even more modest one and spent the proceeds on her. We were not 'rich' or 'privileged', merely concerned for her welfare. Judging by the state of the other parents' cars (ours tended to be five to 10 years old), some 10-20% or parents were in a similar position to us. Result? She is articulate, grammatical, better-organised mentally and more knowledgeable than her state-school contemporaries. UK plc did not suffer, as we still paid taxes to support the state schools which we did not use. What I want to know is this: what on earth is the state doing in the education business anyway?

May 22nd, 2010
11:05 PM
I went to a Grammar School.Grammar schools gave a quality education to pupils from families who did not have 2 pennies to rub together. I do not know about Balls' background. But the death of the grammar schools has been a tragedy.

Fabio P.Barbieri
May 22nd, 2010
7:05 PM
Ed Balls should not be rejected as Labour leader because his parents spent money they could barely afford sending him to to a minor public school. He should be rejected as Labour leader for being one of the worst education secretaries in memory (and God knows there is competition for the title) and for being a Brownite bootlicker who turned upon Brown in public when Brown lost his job. That is quite enough for me.

May 22nd, 2010
5:05 PM
I too am sick of hearing people bleat on that their parents "scrimped and saved" to send them to public school, and I don't accept that foregoing two weeks in Magaluf once-a-year gives an average family enough spare cash to send 3 children to a private school. I am pleased Mr Weeden gives link to the article he quotes. Another, more interesting quote is: "Ed’s father became a Labour activist and secretary of the campaign in Norfolk to abolish the 11-plus exam." Funny isn't it, how the biggest fans of comprehensive education run away in terror when the opportunity to use it themselves arrives. I attended a comprehensive, not much was expected of me as my father was an assembler in a factory, and being a quiet and thoughtful child I was mercilessly bullied by the thugs and ne'er do wells surrounding me. After the breakdown, I met a teacher in a special educational unit. He tutted and said it was a scandal that there were no longer schools for bright kids from my background. In Liverpool he had gone from council house to Oxford University via a grammar school.

Nick Good
May 22nd, 2010
6:05 AM
>If Labour elects Ed Balls we will have yet another son of a rich man at the top of politics. Cannot the 93 per cent of people in this country who did not go to a private school be represented at the top of politics?< As you suggest, it's difficult for the next Maggie Thatchers, Ted Heath, Harold Wilson and John Major to gain tenure, the grammar schools that gave them the leg up from humble backgrounds have been nobbled by the Labour party.

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
About Nick Cohen

Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of You Can't Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom (Fourth Estate) and What's Left? How The Left Lost Its Way (Harper Perennial). Living With Lies, a collection of his writing for Standpoint, is available as an ebook. 

Recent Blog Posts
Blog List
More Posts
Popular Standpoint topics