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6 December 2019updated 08 Jun 2021 8:15am

What we want: To end the Eton mess and start again

By Melvyn Bragg

What do I want? Fewer, if any, Etonians. John le Carré, who taught at Eton for three years, recently described them as “an absolute curse on the Earth, leaving that school with a sense of entitlement and overeducated cultural posturing encapsulated in our appalling former foreign secretary [Boris Johnson]”. Who, looking at the past ten years, could disagree?

Cameron called a referendum for which there was not great demand to duck facing up to his ultra-right-wing rump. His strategy was inept and culpable; he vowed to remain regardless of the result, then cowardly resigned to milk the American circuit with his apologia and, with the help of a few friends, wrote an oily self-justification. He could have led the campaign for the 48 per cent minority and made a name for himself.

He will never be forgiven.

Then there’s poor Theresa May, glazed by the glamour of Cameron and Johnson. Her record at the Home Office was destructive (students) and cruel (immigrants). Her indecision as the Etonians played with her was dreadful to observe.

Up next we have Johnson. Famed across Europe for his lies and his laziness, for crashing, as le Carré said, the Rolls-Royce that was the British Foreign Office, pretending in his bluster to be a second Winston Churchill, but actually representing history repeating itself as farce.

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We have somehow to wash all that out of the system and start again. So what I want is a further referendum (60-40 at least); the last was as near as makes no difference a fix. And let’s stop pretending that a referendum is sacred. Not in this country it isn’t. They are an exception in our long fight towards a democratic constitutional arrangement – still ongoing.

I want to see the north of England, once our great manufacturing centre, comparable with the Ruhr, resurrected in this new technological dispensation. Margaret Thatcher was only the last over a thousand years to trash the north (it began with William the Conqueror). That’s enough. Its neglect is shameful.

I would pump resources into two areas: the arts and the universities, which are truly world class, and both of which – especially the arts/media sector, which now employs more than two million people in specialised jobs – could easily afford to expand quickly and positively, and give the whole country a new charge.

Then the big haul to repair the infrastructure of a fair society. Austerity, or “slash and burn”, as it should be known, has hurt us.

I was in an NHS hospital recently for a couple of rather nasty operations. It was crowded, going full pelt, but the energy and the dedication of a staff of multiple backgrounds with multiple talents was exhilarating.

From scenes like these a new England, as it were a homeland empire, is there to be cherished and strengthened. 

This piece is part of our “What we want” series. Read the rest of the articles here


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This article appears in the 04 Dec 2019 issue of the New Statesman, What we want