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Coffee House

How much do voters care about Old Etonians and the political class?

18 March 2014

1:11 PM

18 March 2014

1:11 PM

Are voters really concerned about how many Old Etonians David Cameron surrounds himself with? Judging by the cutting remarks from Michael Gove and Sayeeda Warsi it matters a lot, but opinion polling tells a slightly different, more troubling tale about how people feel about the ‘political class’.

On the Eton question, YouGov recently carried out a poll asking which characteristics they found most unsuitable for a ‘leading politician’. When asked to choose three or four negative qualities, 38 per cent stated that an MP who went to Eton and doesn’t ‘understand how normal people live’ is unsuitable:

According to the polling, having been schooled at Eton is judged as a worse characteristic than having an affair while in office, a far-right or communist past, a history of drug use, going bankrupt or even participating in a nude photo shoot.

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But, over half stated that a politician who has ‘never had a “real” job outside the worlds of national politics/think tanks/journalism/local government before becoming an MP’ is more objectionable than going to Eton. It appears that the gangs who control Westminster are the real source of the public’s ire. In 2007, Peter Oborne explained in The Spectator how the old British establishment is dead, the political class that has replaced it and the problems it has with voters:

‘The most important division in Britain is no longer the Tory versus Labour demarcation that marked out the battle zone in politics for the bulk of the 20th century. The real division is between a narrow, self-serving and increasingly corrupt governing elite and the mass of ordinary voters. The distinction between those in and out of ministerial office has become blurred, and general elections have become public stunts, whose primary purpose is an ostentatious affirmation of Political Class hegemony.’

Anger towards the political class goes a long way to explaining the rise of Nigel Farage, who is seen as an outsider. More proof of this can be found in another YouGov poll on how party leaders are viewed. Over two thirds see David Cameron as upper class, compared to just under half for Nick Clegg and 39 per cent for Ed Miliband. Yet 6 per cent, the largest proportion of any leader, view Nigel Farage as working class — the City trader, son of a stockbroker who was educated at Dulwich College:

The latest round of Tory wars have unsurprisingly been seized upon by Labour; with the party’s deputy chair Jon Ashworth using Warsi’s comments to describe Cameron as ‘out of touch’ according to her ‘blatant attack on his style of Government’. But they would do well to remember that their own gangs are just as disliked by the public, regardless of what school they went to.

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