Does being an old Etonian still a disqualify you from being Tory leader?
Whenever the Tory leadership prospects of the Shadow Education secretary, David Cameron, are discussed on the site somone will pop and say that he is “too posh”. But is this going to hinder his chances?
On November 27th 1990 the then Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, came a poor third to Michael Heseltine in the Tory leadership election that saw John Major become Prime Minister. At the time it was said that Hurd’s background, particularly the fact that he had gone to Eton, went against him.
Now Cameron, another old Etonian who succeded Hurd in his Oxforshire seat, is being tipped for the leadership and is rated by many bookmakers as second favourite for the leadership behind David Davis. The best conventional bookmaker price is 6/1 though on Betfair you can get more than 8.
In every leadership election since the Tories adopted a form of democracy in 1965 the educational background of the candidates has been an issue. In fact you have to go back more than forty years to Sir Alec Douglas-Home’s time, to find the last Tory leader who went to a public school and in those days leaders “emerged”. There was no election.
The question for the Tory party of today is whether they think it matters any more whether they are led by someone who went to public school
When Cameron was made Shadow Education Secretary some Labour MPs attacked the appointment on the grounds of his educational background. But then it was pointed out that the person he would be facing across the the floor of the House, Ruth Kelly, went to another top public school, Westminster. And, of course, Tony Blair himself is not a product of the state system.
It’s probably quite healthy that Cameron’s Eton past is not the issue it would have been a generation ago. Whether he can beat David Davis we do not know.