As the British election draws ever closer, the debate begins to focus on a small number of key themes. This time, the media have taken up Class as a subject of debate, well I say the media, but actually I mean the left wing media which thinks that pointing out that David Cameron is a posh boy will stop him getting elected. Class, we are told, is still with us, and it still matters.
Well no shit, Sherlock.
However it is not really about David Cameron, or even the large number of rather chinless public schoolboys who make up most of his shadow cabinet. It is about something much more fundamental. You see the dark secret of British Society is that Labour too is dominated by the public school system, Harriet Harman is at least as posh as George Osborne. Tony Blair- famously- is an Old Fettesian and Alistair Darling was at the- even posher- Loretto. Amongst the Liberal Democrats, public school educations are equally popular; Nick Clegg went to school at Westminster.
Nor is the extraordinarily strong preponderance of ex-public school types in powerful places limited to politics. In the law, over 70% of judges are ex-public school. In the media, the preponderance is even higher- over 80%. At every level in the levers of state, the 7% of the population that were sent to public schools have massive advantages over the 93% who were not. Just because you go to University does not mean that this exclusive club will let you in, because Class is not about talent. It is about entrenched, often inherited privilege. It is about socialisation as much as education. It is about us, it is not about them.
It is also a total disaster for our country. This narrow elite has closed itself off, not just from the rest of British society but quite often from the rest of the world. The Public Schools have created a Mafia that protects its privileges and largely denies them to those beyond their own circle. Merit is subordinated to clique and the impact has undermined economic and social cohesiveness.
In my early years in the City there was still the vestige of the old school tie- but the vast expansion of finance after 1986 drowned the Piers's and Gervase's in meritocratic foreigners, and the braying of the toffs was diluted. They moved on into other areas: Estate Agency, property, the media. This was why David Cameron could get a job in PR, but not one in the City (though of course many of his friends did go into the City). Not co-incidentally, the power of the City of London in global terms grew dramatically.
Despite dilution in the City, the power of this Class across the rest of society is overwhelming, especially considering its small size. Whole professions are shut to the majority- and these are generally the best rewarded and most powerful ones. As the economic crisis of the coming decade takes a firmer grip, the naked social divisiveness of the system is going to become a far more obvious part of the British political discourse. Although Labour has sucked at the same teat of privilege as the Conservatives, the more obvious self satisfaction of the Tories, and their denial of the institutional power that Class still possesses will make them more vulnerable to attack.
Of course the cynical news minders of Labour know this, and will not hesitate to play the Class card for all it is worth. However as they do that, both Labour and the Conservatives should remember that there is something genuinely wrong about the way that the UK allows powerful elites to remain closed and unchallenged- and it is one reason why so many of the brightest and the best have chosen to leave. Being a foreigner in Britain is far better than to be the wrong class and being derided by braying ignoramuses.