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3 December 2010

How privilege became a dirty word for the Tory party

MP reveals that Conservatives were told not to use the word in case it was “misunderstood” by the pu

By Samira Shackle

Attacking the Tories along the lines of class may not have worked well for Labour in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election last year, but more evidence that it is a sore point for David Cameron’s party came yesterday in the Commons.

Discussing parliamentary privilege, the Tory MP Bernard Jenkin suggested that the word could be misconstrued by the public:

It went out in the Conservative Party that we shouldn’t use the word “privilege” because it would be misunderstood and presumed to mean something to do with the leader of the [then] opposition’s education.

The British preoccupation with how public figures were schooled was a flashpoint during the election. Gordon Brown memorably told Cameron that his policies had been dreamed up “on the playing fields of Eton”, prompting Kenneth Clarke to provide a list of privately educated Labour ministers.

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Cameron tried to brush it off, telling Trevor McDonald: “I totally accept that in the eyes of many people that is, you know, that is a very posh, very privileged upbringing.” In the light of Jenkin’s revelation, this was a daring use of a banned word (though those who make the rules have licence to break them, of course).

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As yesterday’s debate went ahead, perhaps “privilege” has come in from the cold now that the Conservatives are safely ensconced in government.

Hat-tip: PoliticsHome