A study has shown that protestors who took part in Extinction Rebellion’s demonstrations last year were overwhelmingly middle-class, highly educated and southern. Well, there’s a surprise. It turns out some 85 per cent of the London protestors had a degree, a third had a postgraduate qualification and two thirds described themselves as middle-class. Three quarters of those charged with offences lived in the south.
And, if the accents I heard from the protestors as I biked through the throng on my way to work were anything to go on, a high percentage were public school--educated, too. I’d never seen so many Econians — the public school boys and girls who rule the wokerati world.
Where their ancestors ran Whitehall, the army and New South Wales, Econians are leading lights in eco-protests, cancel culture, Marxist politics and the trans rights movement. Just like their forebears, they run their new fiefdoms thanks to the advantages of a top education, a mastery of the new language of the ruling class, and an air of confident, cold command that brooks no dissent. And all this is done with a studied diffidence about their public school background.
Take the new star of the media and the drag queen world, Amrou Al-Kadhi. A filmmaker, performer in the drag troupe Denim and author of Unicorn: The Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen, Al-Kadhi went to Eton and Cambridge. But you wouldn’t know that from Al-Kadhi’s own website, which carries the description: ‘Professional unicorn. Queer Iraqi non-binary Brit… selected as a Screen International Star of Tomorrow [with] a comedy series called Nefertiti in early development.’
For Econians, their school and university constitute the background that dare not speak its name — whether it’s King of the Eco-Hacks George Monbiot (Stowe and Oxford); or Jeremy Corbyn’s old righthand man Seumas Milne (Winchester and Oxford); or Corbyn and Milne’s sidekick James Schneider (also Winchester and Oxford).
In Fight Club, the 1999 film starring Brad Pitt, the first rule was ‘You do not talk about Fight Club’. With the Econians, you do not talk about public school, let alone bray about it. Real confidence comes from not having to show off about your advantages.
You don’t have to be left-wing to be an Econian. The newly tieless David Cameron picked up on the movement a decade ago when he invited people to ‘Vote blue, go green’. It just goes to show how brilliant public school boys are at adapting to a changing world. If you can master Latin and Greek, then the ever-shifting minefields of gender-neutral language, transgender pronouns, safe spaces and trigger warnings are a doddle. With that sort of background, it’s a short step to running the thought police of the Brave New Woke World.
To be fair to the Econians, they haven’t gone woke in a cynical, Machiavellian way. Just like their forebears, they were educated to lead the world they were brought up in, whatever shape it took. They progress instinctively, quickly picking up the ways in which they need to adapt. Again just like their ancestors, they have all the eternal advantages: money, connections, education and the right sort of accent. And the result is much the same as it’s always been: posh children shutting working-class children out of the top positions in life.
Take that classic Econian Etonian, the Archbishop of Canterbury, piously spouting platitudes in his kitchen while keeping all his churches closed to parishioners during lockdown. Even vicars weren’t allowed into their churches on their own — the ultimate form of social distancing. The virtue-signalling of the Church of England’s ruling class was much more important than the desperate need of ordinary people to take spiritual solace in a religious place of beauty.
The public school system itself is forever changing in order to teach its pupils to climb to the top of these newly developing hierarchies. The Econian headmasters of Eton and Westminster (my alma mater, I must confess) are now decolonising the curriculum after appeals from recently departed pupils. I was told by one Westminster old boy that when he was at the school in the 1970s, the history curriculum was pretty much decolonised anyway by left-wing teachers. But no matter — any Econian worth his salt mustn’t just accept any existing wokeness in his world, he must be seen to be implementing ever-increasing degrees of wokeness himself.
These sort of techniques, instilled at public school, are then honed by the ruthless demands of campus culture. No wonder the public school-educated Oxbridge graduate enters the real world armed with a quiver of weapons that will see off anyone less qualified in the climb up the greasy pole. Floreat Econa!
Harry Mount is author of How England Made the English (Penguin).