Dead Men Left

Monday, December 19, 2005

Down with skool

Behold your future executioners:

"I see a bit of 'class' is coming back now with Cameron and his outfit. The Eton Mafia. We [Labour] are always better against class. When it's a class issue.

"It's the Eton mob isn't it? They used to fight their wars on the Eton playing fields. Now they win elections on the Eton playing fields. I always feel better fighting class anyway - bring the spirit back into the Labour Party."

This would be less absurd if the man Prescott deputises to hadn’t been to Scotland’s own Eton. New Labour lets certain, carefully-vetted and basically toothless old bulldogs off the leash every now and again: witness Dennis Skinner’s contribution to the Labour Party conference. The punters like it – never mind the lack of substance, just admire the burnished patina of proletarian struggle. This is a New Labour simulacrum of class war; a re-enactment staged for entertainment only, rather like those strange men who dress up as Cromwell’s footsoldiers and parade around local parks.

If John Prescott had suggested that Labour were going to close Eton (and indeed Fettes), we might be getting somewhere. Nonetheless, the whiff of damp saltpetre and the flash of blunt swords is more than enough to set the Tories off:

The Tories yesterday sought to deepen the prime minister's discomfort by urging him to ignore Mr Prescott's "class war" battle and stand firm. David Willetts, shadow education spokesman, said: "What we are seeing with John Prescott is a guy who has this deep resentment about not having passed the 11-plus and still, 50 years, 60 years on, is fighting these battles."

Here we see the new language of the class war: deference to the "meritocracy". John Prescott is just thick, you see, and riddled with spite when he sees the clever people doing so well. Never mind that social mobility is on the slide, or that educational outcomes are becoming more – not less – attached to social class.

Fortunately, as Roy Hattersley points out, the 11-plus only really appeals to those who’ve already passed it: the prospect of writing off 80% of children, aged 11, is not one that appeals greatly to most parents - something that Prescott doubtless appreciates. The cries of grammar school swots – and the whisperings of their public-school masters - will fall on deaf ears.