EDUCATION Secretary Michael Gove has hit out at the “ridiculous” numbers of Old Etonians in David Cameron’s inner circle.
In an interview, Gove said such a “preposterous” concentration of individuals from the same privileged background at the top did not exist in any other developed nation.
His comments were seized on by Labour as evidence that the Conservatives are “out of touch” with ordinary people.
Among the Old Etonians around the Prime Minister – himself a former Eton boy – are his chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn; the head of his policy unit, Jo Johnson; the minister for government policy, Oliver Letwin; and Chancellor George Osborne’s chief adviser, Rupert Harrison.
Gove compared them to the cabinet of Eton-educated Tory prime minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, the Marquess of Salisbury, who was accused of nepotism and cronyism.
“At the beginning of the 20th century, the Conservative cabinet was called Hotel Cecil. The phrase ‘Bob’s your uncle’ came about and all the rest of it. It is preposterous,” he said.
“It doesn’t make me feel personally uncomfortable because I like each of the individuals concerned, but it’s ridiculous. I don’t know where you can find some such similar situation in a developed economy.”
Gove, who went to a Scottish fee-paying school, said the concentration of Old Etonians in the higher echelons of the Tory party was a function of the fact that “more boys from Eton go to Oxford and Cambridge than boys eligible for free school meals”.
However shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Ashworth said: “It’s up to David Cameron who he puts into top jobs, and the fact is he has chosen to surround himself with people just like himself. He’s leading a government that’s completely out of touch. That’s why his decisions have helped a privileged few rather than hard-working families, with tax cuts for people earning over £150,000 while wages are down an average £1,600 a year.”
Yesterday Francis Maude, Cabinet Minister and Paymaster General, who went to Abingdon School, said: “I think you’ll find random mixtures at different times. I’m much less interested in what school people went to than I am in what they do and how they do their job.
“I went to a direct grant school which was kind of hybrid really – it was an independent school but taxpayer funded – as would have done a number of people of my generation.
“I just think we can sometimes get a bit too fixated.”