Login Register

Politics in the Westcountry 'the preserve of an elite'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 02, 2013

  • David Cameron in one of his cabinet meetings of late 2012, was educated at Eton

  • Sir John Major, left, has criticised as 'truly shocking' the fact that, as he says, in every single sphere of British influence, the upper echelons of power in 2013 are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class. David Cameron, right, in one of his cabinet meetings of late 2012, was educated at Eton, below, and Oxford. He said he hired people on the basis of 'are they the right person to do the job'

  • Queen's College, Taunton, where former Cabinet minister, Lib Dem MP for North Devon, Nick Harvey was educated

Comments (12)

After former Prime Minister Sir John Major described the dominance of a private-school-educated elite as ‘truly shocking’ the Western Morning News decided to check out the background of our politicians. Phil Goodwin reports.

Analysis of the public records shows that 12 out of the 23 politicians representing the region in the Commons went to private school, including fee-paying grammar schools.

Despite fewer than 10% of the population as a whole attending public schools, more than half the Westcountry MPs (52%) were educated in the independent sector.

Yet if the Commons reflected the general population as whole there would be just three privately educated MPs in Devon, Cornwall and the Dorset and Somerset borders

Six of the 23 MPs followed the well-worn path from Oxford or Cambridge universities to Westminster.

Unsurprisingly, the Conservatives provided the bulk of those lucky enough to have gone to private school, with eight, followed by the Liberal Democrats, with four.

The region's two Labour MPs went to comprehensives.

Only one of six Cornish MPs went to private school, the recently-appointed Tory minister George Eustice, who attended Truro School.

Hugo Swire and Oliver Letwin both attended the Prime Minister's old school, Eton College, and have been called up by David Cameron to serve in the cabinet.

And crucially, two-thirds (8) of the dozen privately-educated MPS have been appointed to ministerial positions.

Exeter MP and former Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw, a vicar's son from Norwich who went to a mixed comprehensive before becoming a journalist with the BBC, worked his way up to a ministerial position.

He said: "My CV shows someone from state school can reach the Cabinet, but the dominance of this Government by old Etonians is depressing. People can't help where they were sent to school, but it does make me worry that we're being governed by a small group of wealthy people who all know each other and don't have much of an understanding of how most people live and, currently, struggle.

"I find students at Exeter's state schools and College just as bright and able and in many ways more rounded than their private school equivalents and I would urge anyone to aim for the top in politics or any other field."

Former Prime Minister Sir John Major – who went to a grammar school in south London and left with three O-levels – says fee-paying schools do not produce all the talent.

"In every single sphere of British influence, the upper echelons of power in 2013 are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class," he said.

"To me, from my background, I find that truly shocking. Our education system should help children out of the circumstances in which they were born, not lock them into the circumstances in which they were born."

David Cameron, who was educated at Eton and Oxford, said he hired people "on the basis of 'are they the right person to do the job'." But he said he agreed with "the thrust" of John Major's argument.

"Look at the make-up of Parliament, the judiciary, the Army, the media – it's not as diverse... there's not as much social mobility as there needs to be," he said.

The education and background of Westcountry MPs at a glance, beginning with Liberal Democrats (8), then the Conservatives (13) and Labour (2)

1.Andrew George, St Ives

Born in Mullion, went to Helston School (state) and the University of Sussex where he received a BA in cultural and community studies in 1980. Went to University College, Oxford to do master's degree in agricultural economics in 1981. Deputy director of the Cornwall Rural Community Council in 1987. Elected 1997.

2. Stephen Gilbert, Newquay and St Austell

Born in Truro, went to Fowey Community College (state school) and St Austell sixth form college. Studied International Politics at University of Wales, Aberystwyth, then at the London School of Economics. Worked for Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Öpik, and in PR. Elected 2010.

3. Dan Rogerson, North Cornwall

Defra minister, born in Cornwall and went to Bodmin College (state school), then studied politics at the University of Wales Aberystwyth. Worked for Lib Dems and in university administration. Elected 2005.

4.Adrian Sanders, Torbay

Went to the selective state school Torquay Boys' Grammar School (state). He worked briefly in a timber yard, then in insurance. Worked for Paddy Ashdown and for voluntary groups. Elected 1997.

5. Nick Harvey, North Devon

Former Armed Forces Minister was born in Hampshire and educated at the private Queen's College, in Taunton, followed by a degree in business studies at Middlesex Polytechnic. Worked for Profil PR then Dewe Rogerson as a marketing executive. Elected 1992.

6. David Laws, Yeovil

Born in Farnham, educated at fee-paying independent schools Woburn Hill School and St George's College, Weybridge, a Roman Catholic day school. He won prizes for debating and went to King's College, Cambridge before a high-flying career in investment banking and politics.

7. Jeremy Browne, Taunton Deane

Former Home Office minister is the son of diplomat Sir Nicholas Browne and educated at Bedales, one of the most expensive and fashionable public schools in the country. Famous past pupils include Daniel Day-Lewis, Minnie Driver, Lily Allen and the children of Princess Margaret. Went to the University of Nottingham. Worked in finance and PR.

8. David Heath, Somerton and Frome

Former Defra minister was educated at the fee-paying Millfield Preparatory School in Somerset and St John's College at the University of Oxford. Worked as an optician, for charities and became the youngest ever leader of a county council at 31.

9.George Eustice, Camborne and Redruth

Defra minister, went to fee-paying Truro School, followed by Cornwall College at Pool. Worked at the family business, Trevaskis Fruit Farm near Connor Downs. Stood as a candidate for UKIP in 1999 EU elections. Press Secretary for David Cameron from June 2005 until 2008 when replaced by Andy Coulson. Elected 2010.

10.Sheryll Murray (Hickman), South East Cornwall

Born at Millbrook and attended Millbrook Primary and Torpoint comprehensive schools (state) before a career in insurance. Cornwall county councillor and leader of the Conservative Group on Caradon District Council. Elected 2010.

11. Sarah Newton, Truro and Falmouth

Born in Gloucestershire, moved to Cornwall and attended Falmouth School (state school) where she was elected head girl. Studied history, at King's College, London then master's in the US. Worked as a marketing officer for IBIS, Citibank and American Express. Later became the director of Age Concern. Elected 2010.

12. Sarah Wollaston, Totnes

Born in Surrey, and educated at a mixture of military and civilian schools as she travelled with her father, who was in the RAF, including Tal Handaq in Malta. Studied medicine and pathology at Guy's Hospital then trained as a GP, moving to practise in Chagford. Selected by open primary and elected in 2010.

13.Mel Stride, Central Devon

Educated at private Portsmouth Grammar School, after being given a free place, and then Oxford University where he was elected President of the Oxford Union.

14. Neil Parish, Tiverton and Honiton

Born Somerset, went to Brymore, a local authority-run agricultural boarding school, left at 16 to manage the family farm in Somerset before becoming an MEP for South West England from 1999 to 2009.

15. Gary Streeter, South West Devon

Went to Tiverton Grammar School (state), then law degree at King's College London. From 1984-98, he was a solicitor and partner at Foot and Bowden (now called Foot Ansteys) in Plymouth, He was a councillor, initially for the Social Democratic Party (SDP), on Plymouth City Council from 1986-92. Elected 1992.

16. Anne Marie Morris, Newton Abbott

Educated at Bryanston public school, at Blandford in Dorset then studied law at Oxford University, before pursuing a legal career. Moved into marketing, working for several firms, before setting up her own business. Got an MBA from the Open University. Elected to West Sussex County Council in 2005 then Parliament in 2010.

17. Hugo Swire, East Devon

Educated at the private St Aubyns Preparatory School in Rottingdean, near Brighton and Eton then the University of St Andrews and the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. Served in the Grenadier Guards, became a financial consultant, head of development for the National Gallery, then director of the auction house Sotheby's. Elected 2001.

18. Geoffrey Cox, Torridge and West Devon

Born in Wiltshire, went to the private King's College, Taunton. Studied law and classics at Downing College, Cambridge. became a barrister and, in 1992, co-founded Thomas More Chambers, serving as its head He was appointed a QC in 2003 Elected in 2005.

19. Oliver Colville, Plymouth Sutton and Devonport

Educated at the fee-paying Stowe School, in Buckinghamshire. Hails from a Naval family. Joined the Conservative Party's staff at the age of 21, working for ministers and backbench MPs. Elected 2010.

20. Ian Liddell-Grainger, Bridgwater West

The great-great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria attended the private Wellesley House in Kent, Millfield in Somerset, and South Scotland Agricultural College in Edinburgh. Ran a 250-acre farm in the Scottish Borders before joining the family firm. Elected 2001.

21 Oliver Letwin, West Dorset

Cabinet minister. He is the son of a professor and was educated at the fee-paying Hall School in Hampstead then Eton College and Trinity College, Cambridge. Merchant banker, financial adviser and journalist. Elected 1997.

22. Alison Seabeck, Plymouth Moor View

Went to Harold Hill Grammar School (state) in London. Studied at the North East London Polytechnic in Stratford. Joined the MSF union, now Amicus, and became secretary of the South Thames Community Branch. Elected 2005.

23. Ben Bradshaw, Exeter

Former Culture Secretary, ducated at the mixed Thorpe Grammar School (state), in Norwich, degree in German at the University of Sussex. Taught English in Germany, then became a reporter with the Exeter Express and Echo, joining Radio Devon then became BBC Radio's Berlin correspondent in 1989, covering the fall of the Berlin Wall. Elected 1997.

Do you have something to say? Leave your comment here...

max 4000 characters


  • josdave  |  December 03 2013, 3:37PM

    Funny how Major never raised this subject when he was Prime Minister. Afraid of upsetting his private school chums no doubt.

    Rate   -2
  • Charlespk  |  December 03 2013, 10:31AM

    Hello omnivore23! Neville Chamberlain tried appeasement also. . It did didn't work for us then either. . These people have got to be 'taken down'. If you look at the mess this country's in this morning it's all down to us 'turning over and pressing the snooze button', because we didn't want confrontation. This overcrowded island is gradually sinking under the weight. PS. Have you ordered my book yet? .

    Rate   3
  • mrcrashhappy  |  December 03 2013, 3:56AM

    What's the point of demonising an adult, particularly by pointing to political affiliation for the sake of engendering class jealousy, for the education received as a child?

    Rate   2
  • omnivore23  |  December 02 2013, 9:20PM

    Hello Charles Glad to see you are on form and still reminding us that farmings gain was the diplomatic services loss :)

    Rate   -3
  • break  |  December 02 2013, 6:42PM

    How can our MP's be as stupid as they are if they went to private schools,if I was them I'd ask for my money back.

    Rate 0
  • Charlespk  |  December 02 2013, 6:12PM

    PS. I wouldn't be an MP even if they payed them a proper rate for the job. . Most of the West Country's talent have made their own way in the Real world and MP'S know where they can be contacted.

    Rate   -1
  • Charlespk  |  December 02 2013, 5:31PM

    You've really got an inferiority complex haven't you Doit. . "Walk with Kings nor lose the common touch," Kipling. I grew up on Council Estate in a single parent family. My education certainly wasn't 'private'. . My 'best friend' from my senior school days is currently a quite senior member of the Conservative Party, and is quite often asked to speak on television on certain matters. He's a gentleman and knows how to behave, but his position was achieved on merit alone just as John Major's was. John Major needs a kick up the backside for just adding fuel to the 'Class War'. He's brought more than enough derision to the Conservative Party during his time.

    Rate 0
  • Doitdreckley  |  December 02 2013, 3:53PM

    You cannot go to a 'public' aka private in reality school unless your parents can afford it or - in some exceptional cases - your parents move in the 'right networks'. Charitable status is a cover that needs to be removed. The health of a society and a community is a much wider issue than what the FTSE is doing.

    Rate 0
  • Charlespk  |  December 02 2013, 1:24PM

    Well you certainly know all about that Pink_Diesel. That's about all you do know. Krebs and Bourne were just following instructions, had a multi £million budget, and have yet to be held to account for the fiasco. Public Schools emerged from ancient charity schools established to educate poor scholars, the term "public" being used to indicate that access to them was not restricted on the basis of religion, occupation or home location. You see; even though it would have been a waste of time, even you could have gone to one.

    Rate   5
  • Pink_Diesel  |  December 02 2013, 12:48PM

    ///John Major continues to be a disaster for the West Country. . If it hadn't been for him bribing the Animals Rights Brigade with promises,/// B*ll*cks! Krebs was commissioned to show that culling badgers would work. Problem, the results were counter-intuative. Opps!

    Rate   -5