From Major to minor

‘Lobbying,’ writes William Waldegrave in this extraordinary memoir, ‘takes many forms.’ But he has surely reported a variant hitherto unrecorded in the annals of politics. The Cardinal Archbishop of Cardiff (‘splendidly robed and well supported by priests and other attendants’) had come to lobby him (then an education minister) against the closure of a Catholic teacher-training college. After discussion the archbishop suggested their respective entourages leave the room. Face to face and alone with Waldegrave, the archbishop told him he had a distinguished 16th-century ancestor, who was a candidate for beatification. The unspoken implication was left hanging. ‘The Roman Catholic college duly closed,’ adds Waldegrave, ‘and I heard no more

A rebellion among Rugby schoolboys proved perfect training for its ringleader in putting down a Jamaican slave-rising in later life

The public schools ought to have gone out of business long ago. The Education Act of 1944, which promised ‘state-aided education of a rapidly improving quality for nothing or next to nothing’, seemed to herald, as the headmaster of Winchester cautioned, the end of fee-paying. Two decades later Roy Hattersley warned the Headmasters’ Conference to have ‘no doubts about our serious intention to reduce and eventually to abolish private education in this country’.Yet David Turner is able to conclude in this well-researched, impeccably fair and refreshingly undogmatic history, that this is their golden age. He takes the unfashionable line that they are now vital contributors to the country’s economic, political

Edward Stourton just can’t stop bashing the bishop

I’ll keep this brief, but can the BBC please replace Ed Stourton as presenter of Radio 4’s Sunday programme? He is an old Amplefordian from one of the great recusant families who, like many elderly Catholic toffs, holds ‘progressive’ views on faith and morals (though not education – he sent his sons to Eton). Fair enough, but he might at least go through the motions of hiding his bias when addressing Catholic issues on his dreary programme. Stourton has a particular downer on Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth, one of only two non-Magic Circle bishops who slipped through Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s net (the other is Mark Davies of Shrewsbury). Ed is a friend

Lord Brocket: Eddie Redmayne gives hope to Old Etonians

Chris Bryant found time to congratulate Eddie Redmayne on his best actor Oscar today despite previously claiming that British culture should not be dominated by privately educated actors of Redmayne’s ilk. While the shadow culture minister’s support for the Old Etonian may be lukewarm at best, The Theory of Everything actor can at least count on the constant support of his fellow alumni. Lord Charlie Brocket has come out to congratulate Redmayne on his win. The peer, who was jailed for an insurance scam in the 1990s, claims that Redmayne’s success will hopefully lead the way for more Old Etonian actors. ‘From a parents’ point of view, when you’ve put them through an Eton education

Eton vs Harrow: Eddie Redmayne comes out on top at the Baftas

Much has been made of Eddie Redmayne’s education at Eton after Chris Bryant claimed that British culture should not be dominated by public schoolboys like The Theory of Everything actor. Mr Steerpike hopes that the Labour MP gave tonight’s Baftas a miss for his own sake, as alumni from Britain’s two most prestigious private schools battled it out in the Best Actor category. Redmayne was pitted against Benedict Cumberbatch, who attended Harrow. Alas Cumberbatch’s efforts as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game were not enough to clinch him victory. It was the 33-year-old Old Etonian who came up trumps, taking home the Best Actor award for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Hawking was

James Blunt’s sense of entitlement is so palpable you could wear it as a hat

Only a fool would mess with James Blunt. As his Twitter followers know, he has a sharp wit, and, as befits a former officer in the Life Guards, he is always ready for a fight. Indeed, the grievous suffering around the world caused by his greatest hit, ‘You’re Beautiful’, has been offset to some extent by his snappy tweets, several widely disseminated photographs of him looking a prawn, and a general sense that he can take a joke. Not long ago someone else tweeted as follows: ‘If you receive an email with a link to the new James Blunt single, don’t click on it. It’s a link to the new

Why there’s no such thing as an Etonian

Finally, just in the last few years I’d say, we’ve all begun to accept the role of nature in the great nature/nurture debate. Though we’ve squirmed and baulked, we mostly now do accept that genes inform (to a greater or lesser extent) not just our height and eye-colour, but our personalities: our intelligence, our disposition. We’re more like our parents than we are like strangers — and what, after all, was so very controversial about that? So now we’re at peace with our genes, here’s another mental challenge, a curious discovery by geneticists that’s even more at odds with our intuition. This one concerns what we’ve come to think of

We’re still repeating the mistakes of the first world war

The time-honoured saying that England’s great battles have been won on the playing fields of Eton is a lot of hooey. Blücher was the real winner against Napoleon at Waterloo, and the only thing he said to Wellington after the battle was ‘Quelle affaire!’ (Hardly an Old Etonian expression.) England’s great battles have been won by some Old Etonians, to be sure, but the heavy lifting has been done by England’s allies, such as the Yanks in the first world war and the Russians in the second. If that ogre Woodrow Wilson had not sold his soul to the bankers and kept America out of the war, I am convinced

If you want social mobility, teach kids at the bottom end to write thank you letters

Last week’s readers tea party at The Spectator was a delight. You always suppose that the people you’re writing for are interested, intelligent and nice….and there you go: they are. But after meeting them, I’ve been brooding about the importance of, how can I put it, charm, as a class issue. One attractive woman – who had been telling me how, in the Sixties, she thought something was wrong with her if she didn’t get groped on the Tube – encouraged me to move on with the observation: ‘I must let other people enjoy you’. Graceful and expert. For ages, coming from a background that was the reverse of grand

‘When HBO want a gritty, hard-bitten, authentic American, they think: Old Etonian’

You don’t expect to find a slice of Eton College in deepest Dalston, but tonight a distinctly posh Waiting for Godot opens at the Arcola Theatre. The Beckett play is being directed by Eton’s former head of theatre, Simon Dormandy, and his Vladimir and Estragon are Tom Palmer and Tom Stourton, two of his past pupils. Together Palmer and Stourton (son of BBC’s Ed) are sketch comedy duo Totally Tom – perfect casting for Dormandy’s ‘reimagined’ production of the play, with its frequent references to music hall, the artform Beckett so loved. Dormandy, an actor as well as a director, has worked with Cheek by Jowl and the Royal Shakespeare

Ed Vaizey for the BM?

There was only one topic of discussion at the launch of Nadine Dorries’s novel Four Streets last night – will Maria Miller survive? The conversation was particularly pointed because Ed Vaizey and Helen Grant — Miller’s now former colleagues at the Department of Culture Media and Sport — were both present. They at least tried not to gossip. Vaizey was invited to speak by Dorries in his ‘capacity as a Culture Minister and a friend’. He gave a comedy turn; lavishing Nadine with praise for her ‘brilliant, brilliant book which I have not yet read.’ He continued: ‘I asked Nadine for a copy and she said you can buy it

Class warriors and unpaid mercenaries

Class war. It’s not very classy, is it? But it’s Labour’s big thing at the moment, the class-of-politicians-crisis, which it thinks works well with the other crisis facing hardworking families up and down the country that the party likes to talk about, and allows Ed Miliband to duck awkward things like responding to the Budget. He and his henchmen have spent the past week and a half talking as much about Etonians as they have pensioners. On Tuesday, Rachel Reeves had her go, banging on about rich Tories buying Lamborghinis. Ed Balls was the follow-up act on Wednesday (having already had a first shot last week with his jokes about

Tory MPs develop new Eton game

Tory MPs from less privileged backgrounds than their leader have developed a fun new game to play in the members’ tea room: drawing up definitive rankings of Polite Old Etonians and Rude Old Etonians. I hear that the polite list includes Jesse Norman, Zac Goldsmith and Jacob Rees Mogg, while the rude list features not only the PM but his chief whip Sir George Young, who is accused of ‘arrogance’. Apparently Sir George doesn’t say hello to people in the corridor. Keen bean Rory Stewart is also on the rude list: ‘People don’t mind ambition in parliament, but vaulting Shakespearean ambition is a bit of a turn off,’ whispers one

Eton vs snobbery

One of the stranger things about Eton is its near-total lack of class snobbery. Yes, all right, you still get the occasional away match where their supporters will chant at the opposition ‘You’ll be working for our Dads’ but that’s just badinage, not animus. I doubt it was always thus. Probably there was a time when every Etonian was acutely aware of which of his housemates was in line for a dukedom and which a mere baronetcy. But, as far as I can tell from my own experiences as an Eton parent, those days are gone. Today Eton is quite ruthlessly meritocratic and if you’re good enough you’re good enough,

How much do voters care about Old Etonians and the political class?

Are voters really concerned about how many Old Etonians David Cameron surrounds himself with? Judging by the cutting remarks from Michael Gove and Sayeeda Warsi it matters a lot, but opinion polling tells a slightly different, more troubling tale about how people feel about the ‘political class’. On the Eton question, YouGov recently carried out a poll asking which characteristics they found most unsuitable for a ‘leading politician’. When asked to choose three or four negative qualities, 38 per cent stated that an MP who went to Eton and doesn’t ‘understand how normal people live’ is unsuitable: According to the polling, having been schooled at Eton is judged as a

Isabel Hardman

Number 10 plays down Warsi Eton Mess stunt

Downing Street is trying to play down Sayeeda Warsi’s  Eton Mess stunt on The Agenda last night. Asked what his response to her decision to hold up a front page saying ‘Number 10 takes Eton Mess off the menu’, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘Look, I think that was in the light-hearted section of the programme. I’m not sure whether he actually caught the programme, as it happens.’ He then added that the Prime Minister had ‘spoken about the importance’ of greater social mobility, and that the Chancellor had made similar comments to that effect yesterday. Both Warsi and Michael Gove were at Cabinet today, but the spokesman said there

David Davis should be in Cabinet – or at least in government

Class never quite goes away as an issue for the Tories, for the simple and sufficient reason that it matters. Lately it was Michael Gove stating the obvious, that the Prime Minister mixes mostly with people with backgrounds like his own…a perfectly human impulse, but not a good look, the Old Etonian coterie. Now David Davis has observed (on the radio) over the weekend, as John Major did last year, that it’s much harder than it was when he was growing up for a working class boy to get ahead in the world. Mr Davis is a product of a Tooting grammar school, a route that’s now closed, but it wasn’t just

Tories talking to themselves

If Grant Shapps and John Major gave a speech but no journalists were there to cover it, did it really happen? That’s what happened today. The Tories invited one pooled camera into their headquarters to see the former prime minister stand next to the party chairman in a belated attempt to prove that at least two senior Tories did not go to Eton. Loyal MPs and spinners delivered the speech line-by-line on Twitter; but the only interesting bits were briefed out to the Daily Mail last night. Apparently, Sir John could only afford half an hour off from watching cricket, so there was no time for a Q&A – nothing

The Spectator’s Notes: Quangos – a world of perfect hypocrisy

The accusation that the Tories have been installing their people in public appointments should evoke only a hollow laugh. They have been comatose on the subject. One of the greatest skills of New Labour was putting its allies in positions of control across the public sector. A great many are still there, and yet the Tories wonder why their efforts at reform are frustrated. Maggie Atkinson, for example, was imposed by Ed Balls, when in office, as Children’s Commissioner, against the recommendation of the relevant selection committee. She lingers on in her useless post. Lord Smith, the former Labour cabinet minister who has been flooding the Somerset levels, is still

Ferdinand Mount’s diary: Supermac was guilty!

You have to hand it to Supermac. Fifty years after the event, he is still running rings round them. The esteemed Vernon Bogdanor (The Spectator, 18 January) tells us that Iain Macleod was wrong in claiming that Sir Alec had been foisted on the Conservative party by a magic circle of Old Etonians. On the contrary, the soundings had ‘revealed a strong consensus for Home. So Macmillan was not slipping in a personal recommendation when he advised the Queen to send for him — he was doing precisely what he was supposed to do.’ This is a deliciously selective account. When Macmillan decided to resign in October 1963, not because