The UK is experiencing more social mobility than probably ever before (the government's big push to increase the numbers of young people in higher education is one symptom/cause), and Tony Blair (whose leadership was marked by affinity for things, including wars, American) famously claimed "We're all middle class now".
Many have thought it would be good were that always to be used to introduce only restrictive clause modifiers (The big dog that is barking is a nuisance) and which, only nonrestrictive ones (The big dog, which is barking, is mine). This neat dichotomy has been much recommended, and some conservative watchdogs of our Edited English do follow it pretty generally. But—especially in Conversational or Informal contexts—most of us use which almost interchangeably with that in restrictive modifiers and rarely but sometimes use that to introduce nonrestrictive modifiers... Best advice: use that or which or nothing, depending on what your ear tells you.
Still, the bare facts are there, for those who wish to make something of them. While in the UK only 7.3% of the population go to private schools, 59% of Conservative MPs were privately educated. Of the 27 members of David Cameron's shadow cabinet, 17 went to private schools. Last summer, a smattering of reports drew attention to the fact that no less than 14 Tory frontbench spokesmen were educated at Eton alone. To be fair, such high-flyers as William Hague and the shadow defence secretary Liam Fox keep their comprehensive-educated end up - but Cameron's circle of friends, colleagues and associates is, perhaps inevitably, dominated by men who once spent their school days cloistered near Windsor, dressed in top hat and tails. They include his speechwriter and "ideas man" Danny Kruger, Tory MPs such as Hugo Swire and Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Cameron's avuncular guru Oliver Letwin and his stepfather-in-law Viscount Astor. The shadow chancellor George Osborne, it should be noted, went to the London school St Paul's - but managed, once he'd got to Oxford, to make it into the "Buller", among whose members he was reportedly known as "Oik".
Last year, figures obtained under the Freedom Of Information Act revealed that Oxford admitted almost twice as many Old Etonians in 2006 as in 2001, and that the figure for alumni of Westminster School was up from 14 to 52 (at the last count, 60% of Westminster's sixth formers got places at either Oxford or Cambridge). When you look at the array of research put together by the educational charity The Sutton Trust, the picture is pretty quickly fleshed out. In the past 18 years, for example, the proportion of privately educated high court judges has barely shifted: in 1989, it was 74%; in 2007, it was 70%. And anyone who sees the media as some forward-thinking meritocratic milieu should think again: to quote from one of the Trust's reports, "the proportion of independently educated top newspaper editors, columnists and news presenters and editors has actually increased over the past 20 years".
Which of today's top politicians are privately educated?
Alistair Darling (Loretto School, Edinburgh); Jack Straw (Brentwood School, Essex) Harriet Harman (St Paul's Girls' School, London); James Purnell (Royal Grammar School, Guildford); Ruth Kelly (Westminster, London); Geoff Hoon (Nottingham High School); Ed Balls (Nottingham High School); Shaun Woodward (Bristol Grammar)
David Cameron (Eton); George Osborne (St Paul's, London); Michael Gove (Robert Gordon's College, Aberdeen); David Willetts (King Edward's School, Birmingham); Andrew Lansley (Brentwood School, Essex); Theresa Villiers (Francis Holland School, London); Nick Herbert (Haileybury, Herts); Peter Ainsworth (Bradfield College, Berkshire); Jeremy Hunt (Charterhouse); Francis Maude (Abingdon); Theresa May (refused to disclose her educational background); Alan Duncan (Merchant Taylor's School, Northwood); Owen Paterson (Radley College, Oxford); Cheryl Gillan (Cheltenham Ladies' College); Andrew Mitchell (Rugby); Oliver Letwin (Eton); Cheryl Gillan (Cheltenham Ladies' College); Andrew Mitchell (Rugby)
A privileged position
Of the 52 prime ministers since 1721, only 12 have not been privately educated: 18 have gone to Eton, seven have gone to Harrow and seven to Westminster
When David Lloyd George became Liberal prime minister in 1916, he was the first PM not to have had a private education
In 2005, 13% (88 in number) of members of the House of Lords came from Eton. Only 17% (106 in number) came from state comprehensives (which account for 90% of all British schools)
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