Posh or Public Spirited?

David Cameron and Nick Clegg are apparently posh, or at any rate they went to expensive Public Schools (note the distinction). This fact is often remarked upon by political commentators who have noticed that all three main political parties are dominated by people who have been to private schools or Oxford or Cambridge. Is this evidence of the continuing power of class in our land? Do these people simply assume they have a right to govern? I wonder.

Long ago, in the Dark Ages, when my sister and I were young, our parents and our school drummed into us the idea of public service. Every Sunday, we would find a group of young immigrant workers invited to spend a “family day” with us, being fed a good meal and given some small treat or other. Terribly paternalistic it may have been, but the experience of being young, lonely and poor in a foreign country is not an enviable one and our parents were definitely overstepping the normal employer/employee boundaries of those days. We children were expected to volunteer to help out in the local geriatric wards (probably not allowed today on grounds of Health and Safety or  Safeguarding of Vulnerable Adults) or find some other way of giving back to society (not that anyone would have used that phrase then). I often rebelled at the time, but looking back I realise that I was being taught something that religion lessons alone would not have taught me: the importance of service.

When I went to Cambridge, the Mistress of my College lamented that graduates were tending to go for high-paid jobs in the private sector rather than showing the public spiritedness she expected in her gals (these were the days of Thatcherism). It looks a world away today, bound up with antiquated ideas of noblesse oblige and all that, horribly condescending and false, don’t you think?

Well, no, actually. I believe in the importance of service. Every time I hear of some public figure behaving badly, dipping his hand in the till or lying to preserve his skin, I feel almost personally affronted. It undermines the ideal of public service I grew up with and which certain schools and universities still inculcate despite the selfish celebrity culture which has come to have such allure elsewhere.

Public service remains an essential note of civilized society. If a privileged background can inspire people to serve then I, for one, am not too bothered about it. I’m just grateful that someone is prepared to do so.

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7 thoughts on “Posh or Public Spirited?”

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Posh or Public Spirited? « iBenedictines -- Topsy.com
  2. I rage whenever I hear “well its alright for them toffs”, them toffs are in charge because they can string a sentence together and care enough to stick their necks out.
    When the “others” take over the Monarch is decapitated!

  3. Hmm… there’s also a strong connection between social class/education and aspiration and confidence. David Cameron is fortunate enough to come from a “can do” background, rather than a “not for the likes of us”. We are very far from being a classless society.

  4. I’m sorry, Rachel, but isnt’ the attitude “not for the likes of us” just perpetuating the class system? I also find it an excuse used by people not to better themselves, as they would then not have to make the effort. After all, if it’s not for us, why bother eh?

  5. Sorry if my decapitated trivialised the subject.
    Catholic education was par excellence in this country until our Bishops advised many Religious to give up their schools and vocations fell away at roughly the same time, which didnt help.
    Many leading Catholics in important jobs today are a result of that free at source system.It was a miracle that so many academics and priest and nuns came from humble(oftenIrish) backgrounds and without any idea of self importance or sometimes worth grew from acorn to oak.
    Class is never an issue unless we choose to make it so.

  6. Class itself isn’t the issue, it’s the aspirations of the children that it produces that are the problem. I teach in a state comp. and spend a lot of time encouraging youngsters to broaden their horizons. We are very proud of the Oxbridge entries we achieve each year. However, for most, even discussing politics is just not on the radar, let alone becoming a politician.

    Let me give you an example of two cousins I know. One is at uni and hoping for a first. The other has left school and is pregnant. Both were in the same year group at the same school. Both were of similar intellectual abilities.The difference is that one of the girls was encouraged from an early age to believe that higher education and a professional career was normal whereas the other was given a view of the world which only involved leaving school as quickly as possible.

    I could go on and on with examples… and I agree that the individual matters. I’m the first member of my family ever to get a degree. But… the main reason why public school educated people are in power is because they have been brought up with this as a normal – and possible – route which they could follow

  7. Aspirations indeed play a big role in society. I think it’s one of the things that separates the UK and the US.
    An American friend of mine made a very interesting observation once. He said that in America, if someone sees another person driving by in a flashy car, says to himself that one day if he works hard, he’ll have one just like that and give the driver a thumbs up.
    In the UK, that same driver would be called a flash git or something worse, and find his car scratched out of spite.

    Like you said, it’s all about aspirations. Nowadays in the UK, ambition seems to have become a dirty word.

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