Posh And Posher Review: It’s a Toff Off

POSH AND POSHER: WHY PUBLIC SCHOOL BOYS RUN BRITAIN: Wednesday 26th January, BBC Two, 9PM

“The play-thing of a privileged elite who dominate politics once more. Is this what Westminster has become?â€?

These are the straight-to-the-point opening words of Andrew Neil in tonight’s Posh and Posher: Why Public School Boys Run Britain, which asks, “has our politics become the reserve of the privileged once more?â€?

Neil certainly makes it hard to argue otherwise: from start to finish, we are confronted with a series of facts and statistics that all drive home the point that modern politics has become disproportionately represented by the rich and public school educated. Three quarters of the coalition cabinet are millionaires; David Cameron, Nick Clegg and George Osborne all went to schools that now charge fees higher than the average wage; a third of today’s Labour front bench went to Oxford or Cambridge; Eton has produced 19 prime ministers; around seven per cent of the UK population go to fee paying schools, yet this accounts for half of the cabinet. And so on… You get the point.

What’s interesting is that although what Andrew Neil questions is not necessarily new ground, it does ask questions that have not explicitly been answered – or solved – by the political world. While many of us take for granted the “if you haven’t been to Eton or Oxford, you ain’t coming inâ€? door policy of Westminster without a second thought, Neil reminds us that this wasn’t always the case. The grammar school system created a means of opportunity for high achieving pupils whose parents couldn’t afford expensive fee paying schools, and thus paved the way for a 33 year period in politics where all of our Prime Ministers – from Harold Wilson to John Major – were educated at state schools. Indeed, Neil attributes his own grammar school education to his success as a journalist and broadcaster: by his own admittance, he now lives the lifestyle “many posh people liveâ€? (home is “poshest borough in Londonâ€? – Kensington) but he started off life in a council house in Paisley.

With the demise of grammar schools, Neil points to the current crop of forty something political leaders who are the first ‘post grammar school’ generation. He says: “30 years on from the end of the grammars, it’s no coincidence that public school boys have triumphed. Without the grammars, there’s simply less competition. And that means politics is missing out on a lot of potential.â€?

Through a series of archive political footage, various visits across Britain, and interviews (he speaks to everyone from Peter Mandelson and Tony Parsons to a squirming Sarah Teather who admits “it’s not a good thingâ€? that politicians don’t represent the majority); the documentary is a thorough examination of modern politics and considers the argument from both sides. However, it is clear that total impartiality is not the name of the game: Neil brags of his own success, “in my case, it was hard work and ambition, rather than daddy’s moneyâ€?. Because of this, Neil tends to portray present day politicians in a ‘nice but dim’ manner. Lord Hurd, former conservative Cabinet Minister, defends David Cameron, telling Neil (albeit over tea at his exclusive London club):â€? He’s intelligent and that’s why he is Prime Minister. It’s not because he went to Eton; the fact he’s been at Eton has been a total obstacle.â€?

Meanwhile, there’s comedic value courtesy of Jacob-Rees Mogg (Conservative MP for North East Somerset) who attempts – and fails- to convince Neil that politics does not recruit from a narrow social group. “Come onâ€?, he cries, “my father’s never been a member of parliamentâ€? to which Neil retorts, “No, he’s in the House of Lords!â€?

Thought provoking and provocative, Posh and Posher will leave you questioning – as Neil’s intention – if it will ever again be possible for a prime minister to work their way up to the top, without class and privilege. Neil hopes for meritocracy once more, but argues ultimately: “If politicians are already ‘posh’, they’re about to become even posher.â€?

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