Monday, 24 April 2023

I blame the schools


For reasons which entirely escape me, it has long been the accepted norm in the UK that former pupils of private schools are grossly over-represented in the higher levels of most professions, and most especially, perhaps, in parliament. Whilst they are over-represented even on the Labour benches, the real disparity is to be found lurking in the ranks of the Conservative Party. Whilst only around 6% of the population are entirely privately educated, rising to around 17% at sixth form level (source), fully 45% of Tory MPs are from ‘public’ schools, and a whopping 65% of the cabinet.  The baleful influence of such schools isn’t limited to those who went there; it rubs off on those who work with – or more usually, for – the ‘beneficiaries’ of such an education. It isn’t just the difference between state education and private education which matters either; for those who attended such institutions, there are layers of prejudice and snobbery about precisely which school individuals attended. Even amongst themselves, not all schools are equal. As Jake demonstrated a few years ago, those who went to one school in particular have a distinct tendency to see themselves as being superior not only to the masses, but also to those who went to ‘lesser’ schools. Just about everybody, in fact.

Perhaps it’s at least partly the effect of being torn out of their families and sent away at such an early stage, but there is a strong correlation between those who are subjected to this experience and a range of attitudes which is, shall we say, somewhat removed from the normal life experienced by most of us. The nature of the fee-paying system inevitably means that they are overwhelmingly drawn from the wealthiest levels in society with all the early advantages that confers on them, but they still nevertheless contrive to believe that they got where they are on their own merits, by dint of their own brilliance. It’s almost as if they think that it was they who had the perspicacity to be born to the right parents at the right time rather than some accident of birth. The gulf between their perception of the world and the experience of the majority of us sometimes shows through in unexpected ways. Raab and those defending him (and again, Jake is to the fore) do not interpret the events surrounding Raab as bullying at all, and don’t see why he had to resign. Most people who’ve ever been subject to bullying in the workplace would look at the report into Raab and conclude that yes, this is the behaviour of a bully, but if we look at the issue in the context of schooling, it makes perfect sense to argue to the contrary. For someone who has been to one of the UK’s ‘great’ public schools, what looks like bullying to most of us would appear to be perfectly normal behaviour. ‘Character-building’ even. Suffering it in their early years and then inflicting it on others in their later years is their idea of normal.

It isn’t the only thing they learn, of course. They also learn the art of name-calling as a substitute for debate, as in ‘Sir Softy’ (although that one sounds more like an aristocratic ice cream franchise than a serious insult), and ‘Crasheroonie Snoozefest’ (which is as utterly meaningless as it is puerile). Whilst it’s true that a lot of the people sitting behind them cheer wildly at this nonsense, we need to remember that statistic quoted earlier: 45% of them had the same type of education. Of course they think it’s clever and amusing. Their ‘education’ has a lot to answer for.

One of Raab’s attempts at a ‘get-out-of-jail’ card was to argue that treating junior staff badly is only bullying if the person doing it intends it to be so. It’s a nice try, but since ‘intent’ is extremely difficult to prove, there would probably never be another provable instance of bullying again. And I’m even prepared to believe that he didn’t intend to bully anyone; he was simply indulging in what, to those around him, is normal behaviour when dealing with lesser beings. In response to the whole Raab affair, the government seems to be looking for ways to prevent a repeat by making it harder for anyone ever to lodge a complaint about bullying. It is to them entirely natural to disregard the simpler solution of simply treating other people like humans. But why would we expect anything different, bearing in mind their background?

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