Privately educated British cabinet minister slams concentration of privilege in government

Education Secretary Michael Gove said the situation was 'ridiculous'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 March, 2014, 3:20pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 March, 2014, 3:20pm

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s education minister on Friday condemned the concentration of privilege in the government, saying it was “ridiculous” that so many of the premier’s inner circle went to the elite Eton school.

Education Secretary Michael Gove, a member of Cameron’s Conservative party who himself attended a private school in Scotland, said the situation was unique among developed nations.

Cameron was educated at Eton, as were his chief of staff Ed Llewellyn, the head of his policy unit Jo Johnson, government policy minister Oliver Letwin and Rupert Harrison, chief economic adviser to finance minister George Osborne.

More than half of Cameron’s cabinet are privately educated, according to the Daily Telegraph newspaper, compared to just 6.5 per cent of the British population as a whole.

“It doesn’t make me feel personally uncomfortable because I like each of the individuals concerned, but it’s ridiculous,” said Gove, a member of Cameron’s Conservative party, in an interview with the Financial Times.

“I don’t know where you can find some such similar situation in a developed economy.”

He said it would be “silly” to blame the individuals themselves, but said the situation was the result of the high number of Etonians who went on to study at Oxford and Cambridge universities.

Cameron is regularly accused of being out of touch with voters because of his background and wealth, claims bolstered by the fact that two thirds of his cabinet are millionaires.

And the opposition Labour party was quick to seize on Gove’s comments.

“It’s up to David Cameron who he puts into top jobs, and the fact is that the prime minister has chosen to surround himself with people just like himself,” said Labour lawmaker Jon Ashworth.

“He’s leading a government that’s completely out of touch.”

Eton, which counts Princes William and Harry among its former pupils, is one of Britain’s top performing and most expensive private schools, currently charging £33,270 (HK$429,000) a year in fees.

Since Cameron’s coalition government took office in May 2010, Gove has been pushing through reforms to give more independence to publicly funded schools, which has put him on a collision course with teaching unions.