The dominance of Eton-educated men in public life is greater than it was a century ago – with the Old Etonians running politics, media, Church and law
The motto of a public school says a lot about itself.
The rugby school, for example, is at the origin of a Protestant work ethic: “By praying, by working” (Orando Laborando). The Winchester school goes for the ambitious: “Manners makyth man.” While Gordonstoun, the former school of Prince Charles, opts for the fridge magnet quote “More is in you!” “(More in you).
But Eton College, the £ 44,094 per year Windsor-based school, shows its true colors with a deeply egocentric motto: ‘May Eton flourish’ (Floreat Etona).
For a school that has produced an impressive 20 prime ministers, it seems such a sentiment serves it well. Self-interest, self-glorification and self-confidence seem to be the hallmarks of this Berkshire school.
Its blossoming of late, however, has taken on an improper bloom. Rather than producing a crop of beauty blossoms, Eton College seems to have become almost pestilential in British public life. Today almost all the pillars of British society boast an old Etonian at their head.
Not only have ex-Etonians been at the helm during some of the most turbulent times in modern British history – including, most recently, current Prime Minister Boris Johnson and former Prime Minister David Cameron – others Old Etonians were also in charge of state offices.
These include the Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Council, Jacob Rees-Mogg; the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith; the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby; the editor of Britain’s most influential newspaper – the Daily mail, Geordie Greig; and a Supreme Court judge, Lord Leggatt – while in 2020 another former Atonian judge, Lord Robert Carnwath, retired.
The main pillars of Leviathan – Parliament, Army, Church, Press, and Law – all have an old Etonian at the helm. By default, they are of course all men. Not to mention our waiting King Prince William and his brother Prince Harry who both attended school.
It hasn’t always been that way.
Boris JohnsonResidential school survivor
Eton’s growing influence
A hundred years ago, the landscape was much less unique in terms of educational origin. While all of the aforementioned positions were held by men, none of them had been at Eton.
In early 1921 David Lloyd George (who attended Llanystumdwy National School) was Prime Minister. The head of the House was Bonar Law (of the High School of Glasgow). The Chief of the General Staff was Sir Henry Wilson (trained at Marlborough College). The Archbishop of Canterbury was Randall Davidson (a Harrow School alumnus). Britain’s most influential newspaper publisher – arguably at the time The temperature – was Henry Wickham Steed (who attended Sudbury Grammar School). And the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales at the time was Rufus Isaacs (a former University College School student).
Even the monarch, King George V, had been sent to sea and trained on HMS Britannia at Dartmouth, then on HMS Bacchante.
It has been said that the apotheosis of Eton’s influence occurred in the late 1950s and early 1960s when Etonian-trained Harold Macmillan and Sir Alex Douglas-Home were first ministers. A joke was circulated that a sign could be hung on the doors of Eton saying “Cabinetmakers to Her Majesty the Queen”.
But the current crop of former Etonians does not seem to dominate only political power, but other central pillars of the state as well.
If you played the roles of Prime Minister, House Leader, Chief of the General Staff, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Editor-in-Chief of the Daily mail (State, army, church and press) as a guide, the current situation in British public life has been exceptional over the past 100 years.
Such positions were rarely occupied by the ancient Etonians in the 20th century. It accelerated under David Cameron to peak today.
It’s not just the tops of the pillars of the state where the Old Etonians reside.
Research by The Citizens has shown that of the 644 House of Lords members whose education was common knowledge, 61 went to Eton – almost 10%.
Of these 61, 59% (36) went to Oxbridge, with most having attended Oxford (20).
Such dominance of the Old Etonians is not only in contrast to the state-educated Lords (244 or 38% of the household), but is even in contrast to other former “main” Lords schoolchildren.
By comparison, 12 members of the upper house visited Harrow; 10 in rugby; new in Winchester; seven in Ampleforth, Wellington and Westminster; six at Haileybury and St Paul’s (boys); and five in Marlborough.
Members of the House of Lords with private training are five times more likely to have attended Eton College than the next leading public school, Harrow.
Eton is also linked to the House of Lords in an indirect way.
Baroness Kate Rock is married to Etonian Caspar Rock of the wealth management company Cazenove Capital, part of the multinational Schröders Group. They allegedly loaned their luxury Klosters ski house to the former chancellor Georges osborne, and were said David Cameron’s friends in Oxford. During this time, Baroness Jo Valentine is also married to an Eton-trained venture capitalist Simon acland, son of the former ambassador to Washington.
Where Eton’s influence extends
Eton’s tendrils of political influence don’t stop only at the top.
Cambridge Analytica was the now-defunct political consultancy that was at the heart of a data scandal in which personal data belonging to millions of Facebook users was collected without their consent, primarily for use at for political advertising purposes. It was started as a subsidiary of the private intelligence firm SCL Group by Nigel Oakes, Alexander Nix and Alexander Oakes. The three men went to Eton.
It is perhaps not surprising. The self-confidence of the Etonians is remarkable. They sent some 208 students to Oxbridge in 2020 over a school year of around 1,300 young men, meaning about one in six (69) got a spot. Granted, Oxbridge’s offerings have grown from 99 in 2014 to 48 in 2021 – but one school still sends four dozen students to ‘top’ universities in the UK.
Of course, some argue that there is nothing wrong with having an “elite” school that produces future leaders. After all, the school takes pride in the fact that 37 Old Etonians have been awarded the Victoria Cross – the most alumni of any school. There are also a slew of well-known names that dominate the small and big screen, including actors Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, Damian Lewis, Dominic West and Eddie Redmayne. And that was recently reported that, for the first time in nearly three decades, Eton failed to produce any Tokyo Olympics medalists for Team GB.
Time and time again, however, the Old Etonians in public life have been shown to lack the heroic or athletic ethics of some of their comrades, from scandals surrounding David Cameron’s lobbying in Parliament, to accusations of cronyism, nepotism and malfeasance that stalk Boris Johnson.
When Johnson was asked in a 2006 documentary titled School days if he has ever been embarrassed to go to Eton, he first tried to dodge the question, even stress that he was “a graduate of the State” and “beneficiary of a Henry VI scholarship”. He also hyperbolically described Pop, Eton’s society for the elite prefects of which he was a member, as “a self-electing elite of almost sickening pomp and arrogance with a belligerent disregard for the rest.” of humanity “.
But what was most telling was when He described elitism. It was, he said, “a concept that a school like Eton is trying to associate with.” And there it was clear: “I am not against elitism… the question is how to make this elite porous. The trick is to free people up so it’s not just one school, like Eton. “
It seems, however, that under Boris Johnson, those at the top of the elites of British public life have become less porous than ever.
Additional reports from Peta Morton
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