Fraser Nelson

Who cares about the playing fields of Eton?

Who cares about the playing fields of Eton?
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The Eton question came up on Question Time – is Labour right to use class in the run-up to the election? I have a piece in The Guardian tomorrow on this theme. The answer should be that which Andrew Lansley read out on Question Time:  that this shows Labour is living in the past, what matters is where you’re going to not where you came from. He’s right. But I do wish the Tories would believe it. The Eton taunt is still taken far too seriously by the Cameroons: it hurts them. It’s a piece of verbal kryptonite. They go to great lengths to defend themselves from such an attack: the 50p tax, for example, is embraced by the Conservatives just so Brown can’t say “Cameron’s looking out for rich folk, just like him.” Liam Halligan once said that the Cameroons sometimes behaved as if they were trapped by their past: there are policy areas they daren’t touch as a result of their background.

In many ways, the Tories are still paranoid about this. Lansley couldn’t help but point out on Question Time that his parents didn’t pay for his private school fees: the local authority did. Very good, Andrew, and the MoD paid for my boarding school fees: but does that make either of us a better person? And what does it say about people like the Cameron and Osborne, whose families could afford it? In Tory world, too many people do still differentiate themselves very much by where they went to school. Lansley was saying “Look, on paper I’m bad, but scholarship boy means I’m only half bad”. The meritocratic spirit is best embodied by the likes of Liam Fox who never discusses his (comprehensive) school background. He regards it as irrelevant, which it should be. But the Tories are so painfully aware of it that on the Shadow Cabinet website all the non-Public School members have the name of their school on their wee CV while others have sentences which airbrush it out. For example: “Liam attended the local comprehensive school” versus ‘Born and educated in London, George studied modern history at Oxford”. It really is as petty as anything dreamed up in the Alistair Campbell/Labour attack unit

So this is the power of the Eton jibes. The idea that the “toff” attack work kind of died in the battleground of Crewe & Nantwich. My News of the World readers could not care less: their approach, from the letters I’m sent, is that you play the hand you’re dealt in life. They see elections as hiring a bloke for a job. They want the best bloke. The ‘Eton’ jibe is a dog whistle to political activists, on a frequency that plays with the Tories’ heads. But Brown loves nothing more than watching Tories squirm: and the Eton word makes them do just that.