Two centuries ago the Duke of Wellington was watching a cricket match at Eton when he was overheard observing: “The battle of Waterloo was won here.”
It spawned a saying about the sports pursued on his old school’s playing fields shaping the backbone of those who were born to rule Britain.
Fast forward 200 years and the games being played by his Old Etonian successors are determining the country’s fate again. Only this time it’s Britain facing its Waterloo.
Westminster is paralysed and only in its canteen dessert section is there a sign describing it accurately: “Eton mess”.
he main players in this excruciating national humiliation all attended the same Slough school. And it wasn’t the Lynch Hill Academy.
Eton produced the man who, thinking he was saving his own political skin, plunged his country into years of impoverished rancour, David Cameron.
The one who helped it on its way by lying to people in the hope of stealing Cameron’s job, Boris Johnson.
The one who convinced the Dad’s Army wing of his party to accept nothing less than the purest of Brexits, Jacob Rees-Mogg. And the one who has stepped in to run parliament when no-one elected him to, Oliver Letwin.
That’s without mentioning the Rory Stewarts in the Cabinet and Zac Goldsmiths on the backbenches or the Dominic Lawsons, Charles Moores and Geordie Greigs who back the Eton agenda via their powerful press positions.
Or the thousands of mandarins, moguls, judges, generals, ambassadors, investment bankers and key civil servants who all belong to the Eton mafia.
It’s no good going over their heads to the monarch because the next king but one was schooled there too. And forget divine intervention because the Archbishop of Canterbury’s an Old Etonian too.
Britain’s education system is a pyramid-shaped heap. At the bottom are state schools so skint they need to beg parents to pay for books and teachers to dip into their pay to feed hungry kids.
Very close to the top is the public school system which only educates 6.7% of the population but, according to the latest survey, produces 71%
of top military officers, 74% of top judges, 61% of the country’s top doctors, 42% of top actors and 32% of MPs.
At the very top of the heap is Eton, which is privilege par excellence. And the saddest aspect of a school that costs £280,000 to put a boy through, is that its products can’t even see how they abuse their privilege.
In the midst of Wednesday’s crucial debate on where the country goes next, Rees-Mogg found Commons time to share an in-joke with fellow Tory Nick Boles about his unfortunate parents only being able to afford to send him to the lesser public school Winchester (£39,912-a-year fees).
David Cameron’s former policy adviser Jesse Norman claimed Old Etonians dominate government because “other schools don’t have the same commitment to public service”.
But there’s only ever been one service its products are interested in – a serving of themselves, which serves to preserve the most elite of elites.
Even if it means convincing those they exploit through their privileged position that they are the ones challenging those elites.
Forty years ago Paul Weller sang: “Hello-hurrah, there’s a price to pay, to the Eton rifles.” He was spot-on.
Clearly we’ll be paying it for many years to come.