Posh and posher

The BBC Programme Posh and Posher, screened on last night’s TV was a blistering indictment of our educational system and the reasons for the narrowing of the world of politics in the UK to a privileged and wealthy elite.

I have mentioned the fact that I went to a Grammar School in the 1950s and early 60s……. I sort of regret now that I referred to it as “posh,” for if Andrew Neil’s commentary shows anything, it is that the “posh” he speaks of, means being part of, or comfortable with an “aristocracy”-  an “old boys’ network” (even if you are a girl) and have obtained your degree from Oxford or Cambridge universities, preferably in their PPE course (politics, philosphy and economics.) Apart from the fact that this worries me because of its narrowness, as a country we are kidding ourselves that a descent into a them/us mentality is anything other than dangerous. The cuts that are being applied to the lives of ordinary people, poor people and the vulnerable are vicious and will come back to bite the coalition government. A government that delivers them with such sanctimonious, hand-wringing pleas, that as it is not their fault, it must be that of Labour. They seem to forget or ignore the world-wide recession and banking crisis. (I’ll have a go at the bankers another day.)

The position in Scotland is slightly different in that the Scottish Parliament comprises in the main MSPs who have got there on ability and dedication – at least that is what I like to think. Because of the system of voting the electorate can vote for whichever party they favour and the seats are divided up amongst them. This creates a system whereby politicians have to work together to achieve goals and make policy.

The problems overall with the UK – and of course Scotland is still part of the UK – are to do with the narrowing of the field from which politicians emerge. This means that economic policy, fiscal authority, defence and foreign policy are overwhelmingly decided by those who have been educated predominantly in the English public schools system. There are fewer Scottish fee-paying schools, but again they tend to produce the type of candidate that is favoured in modern politics. This is happening in the three main parties. Other routes to a career in politics through local activism or trades unions are being marginalised.

One section of the programme showed an interview with a young man who was working in an independently funded youth club in one of the Glasgow Housing Schemes. He spoke articulately about the gulf that exists between our politicians and the people living in Easterhouse. A founder member of the club told of the gulfs that education, poverty and bad housing cause. Education has to be the answer and somewhere, somehow people will start to realise that a meritocracy and a passion for justice will fuel a country of which we can all feel proud.

At the moment I almost wish I was several years younger so that I could construct the barricades. I can only hope that somewhere young people are so incensed that they decide to fight back.

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10 Responses to Posh and posher

  1. Marcia Mayo says:

    It’s interesting to read about the problems in the UK, problems so similar to those we are are dealing with in the US. The names and terms are different but the difficulties are the same.

  2. Tim says:

    narrowing of the field from which politicians emerge. +1, insightful!

    Scottish fee-paying schools… tend to produce the type of candidate that is favoured in modern politics

    At the risk of invoking Godwin by agreeing: Bliar 🙁

    I can only hope that somewhere young people are so incensed that they decide to fight back.

    They do, right up until they spend what should’ve been 3 years of studying stuck in jail instead for their efforts.

  3. freda says:

    Thanks, Tim, I was wondering if I had ranted a bit much! It’s not so easy for me to jump off the fence these days. I fear there is yet more coming – about education and the need for a meritocracy.

  4. freda something I have been banging on for a very long time is that all our MPs should be forced to send their children to the nearest state school in their constituency.
    Then we might actually see things being changed for educational rather that petty party political reasons in our schools.
    No ifs, no buts …

  5. I think you know Freda that every perceived injustice imposed by a ruling society, be it Parliament or judiciary, local authority or other will always meet with oppositon.
    Personally I feel that standing up for what you believe is right is the only way any progress is ever made.
    Having had the bare minimum of education myself, and coming from a political family I am acutely aware of the diminishing opportunities available to those not from wealthy families.
    Historically the Wat Tylers, Luddites, Anti corn-law protesters, not to mention the Tolpuddle Martyrs have all come from ill-educated groups of people with a strong sense of injustice.
    Even the CND marchers though from a wider mix of people were largely groups of working-class youth with a sprinkling of older academics, clerics etc.
    It would be a poor look-out should youth not rebel and when they do I’ll come and help you to man the barricades (if not to construct them)

  6. Mina says:

    Quite an articulate rant with which I agree. However, when I was going through the Scottish Educational system and into employment there was another consideration and that was – which school did you attend. Did it have Saint in front of its name. Depending on where you were seeking employment this was a positive or a negative. I found this totally shocking, but then it was the West Coast of Scotland in the 50s & 60s.

  7. Joan says:

    I am stunned my friend, you are almost but not quite inciting anarchy!!!!.
    We may be to old to man the barricades but you could join me at one or two hustings and ask the awkward questions!
    I agree with all you say and yes the is more hope for Scotland because of the voting system up here but there are still questions to be asked.
    I do hope George Galloway gets in, he will bring colour and some good old fashioned Socialism back into Scottish politics.

  8. Liz says:

    It was an excellent programme and Andrew Neil went up in our estimation as we watched.

    I hesitate to comment because I don’t want to sound defensive. I’ve got good trade union credentials too! But I do want to remind folk that not all products of private schools are the same, just as not all products of grammar schools are like Thatcher! Or everyone who grew up in a housing scheme is schemie and so on.

    I went to one (actually three between age 6 and 18) and recognise the privileged education I received. It doesn’t make me identify with the present government! It does make me wish there was more we could do to improve state education (for children and teachers). My sons went to state schools in Edinburgh and Oban. They are both now students and had a much broader base to start from than I did. Some opportunities were better but I can see why folk are tempted to go private if they can. We would have struggled to pay but if we’d been inclined we knew about bursaries, etc. It was a point of principle not to but I admit to be tempted on a couple of occasions.

    Our younger son was accused of being Tory when he dared to tell a meeting that they should work with posh people too. His friends thought this hilarious as he is politically active and certainly not tory (or posh)! (Unless it’s an elaborate double bluff) The point being that it’s the causes that matter and each one needs good people.

    Caroline Lucas, the Green Party’s first MP, was privately educated. Followed by Exeter Uni). Not everybody gets more confidence in such schools but I hope those that do will use their gifts for the good. Hopefully she’ll be joined by more from the state sector, and possibly from private schools too. Not because she promotes her pals but because she inspires folk.

    Having had my rant I’ll happily help you build the barricades. Meritocracy should rule OK.

  9. freda says:

    Thanks for all the comments. Between us we have the basis of how to change the world. You’re right about the dangers of making assumptions about people based on background, Liz, but on the day of the rant I was so cross that I didn’t want to weaken the argument by being reasonable! I’ve calmed down now, but only a bit. I am still very upset at the way that the vulnerable and marginalised are being treated, in our country – particularly at the way the cuts are seemingly angled to further marginalise and isolate them.

    I do feel that a good education has its basis in a society where everyone is encouraged to do their best, whilst at the same time ensuring that no-one is denied education because a minority are not well enough motivated to behave in class.

  10. freda says:

    Just in case anyone doesn’t understand the relevance of Mina’s comment I should point out that sectarianism was an unfortunate part of Scotland in the last century. Getting a job depended upon whether the company concerned favoured people from Roman Catholic or Protestant backgrounds. It may even be the case that some remnants of this still exist.

    Joan, I can’t see you and I climbing on the barricades, but Oh, dear now that the genie is out of the bottle, will she go back in?

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