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In red corner at true blue school; Tell that to the young people of today...and they won't believe you.


I'VE been to a posh public school. Not many people know that.

Even fewer want to know, and I'm only kidding really. I was in the hallowed precincts of Rugby School for a couple of hours, to talk about the Labour Party.

If you think this is Mission Impossible, you may have a point. The fees for boarders here are PS38,050 a year - three times the national minimum wage.

Rugby is the archetypal public school, the model for Tom Brown's School Days, and the place where William Webb Ellis supposedly invented rugger, old chap.

The poet Rupert Brooke was an old boy, along with Tory appeasement premier, Neville Chamberlain.

So, a hard sell. Around 40 students turned up for the Politics Society event, sitting on plush sofas, on window sills and even on the floor.

The title - chosen by the school's head of politics (they didn't have one of those at Normanton Grammar) - was "Has the Labour Party lost its soul?" A loaded question, rather like "have you stopped beating your wife?", because it assumes that the party had a soul in the first place, which is a bit surreal.

I argued that ever since its foundation by a group of trade union leaders in 1906, Labour has had, if not a soul, then a moral purpose: to better the lives of the working people it represents. And that purpose is still alive today, though it took a knock in the Blair years when Labour got into bed with the money men and did too little to undo the Thatcher legacy of unbridled capitalism.

By the election of Ed Miliband as leader, we took a decisive step away from Blairism and back towards the spirit of the founding fathers. Ed is standing up well to the Tory smear campaign over the Co-op Bank affair.

Rugby's lads and lasses asked interesting questions. Like: "What single policy would I want a Labour government to implement?" Pause. Think. Well, I'd like Ed Miliband to ease some of the nasty, pettifogging, illiberal restrictions on trade union freedom. That would be a good way to thank those who put him in the job.

Another asked if Labour could be trusted to run the country. No hesitation. Of course they could. The present Shadow Cabinet has members with solid experience of government and new entrants, like Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves, with valuable experience of life outside Westminster.

Ellie, the Politics Society leader, asked about social mobility.

I suggested unpaid internships, a disfiguring feature of modern business - especially the media - should be scrapped. That went down well, as you might expect.

This was an interesting and useful experience. I'm usually speaking to the converted at such events and it's good to have to stick up for what you believe in. It's not quite missionary work, but something like it.

I still think public schools, which have (and should not have) charitable status, are elitist, divisive and socially unacceptable. But that's not the kids' fault. They don't choose where they go.

It's not where you get your education that matters, it's what you do with it.

David Cameron went to Eton, but so did Tam Dalyell, a strong Labour leftie MP who was a thorn in Thatcher's side for many years. Clement Attlee went to Haileybury, and look at his achievements.

Incidentally, Rugby, a rather uninspiring town from what I saw of it, must have the longest Railway Terrace in the kingdom, from the station to the town centre - easily 10 times longer than the one I was born in.

It's not where you get your education, it's what you do with it
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Title Annotation:Features; Opinion, Column
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 22, 2013
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