THE BLOG
11/11/2013 11:28 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

John Major's Right - Eton Has Eaten Us All Up

'The only meritocratic institution in Britain today is the City', proudly announced my friend, a fabulously successful and - please believe me when I say this - genuinely humble fund manager. His team are there to make money, of course, look after their clients and, though my friend didn't say this, assist the company in becoming even more powerful. But what they look like and where they come from is immaterial when it comes to employing them.

But I only really thought about what he said this week after Sir John Major's wholly accurate assertion that we are in the hands of a privately-educated elite who know very little about the experiences of the vast majority of Britons.

The obvious point of reference is David Cameron who has a bit of a track record here. It was only a few months ago, for instance, that he asked his fellow Old Etonian, Bullingdon Club ex-banker, journo friend Jo Johnson, brother of Boris, to head his policy unit.

I have no doubt Jo is as gifted as he is blond but this Prime Minister, who myopically surrounds himself with obscenely privileged mirror images, has done more than any recent leader to make our supposedly meritocratic society resemble an autocratic one, in which only a specially selected elite rise to the top and then proceed to tell us what's good for us.

But what's even more disturbing is that it's not just a Tory trait. The most insulting moment in all the stomach-churning Thatcher hagiography earlier this year came in a speech in the House of Commons from sometime-student politician Ed Miliband, when I'm pretty sure he was trying to praise her. He spoke of the 'unlikely rise of the grocer's daughter'. It was followed by a reluctant murmur of approval from his opposite number.

Of course it was unlikely. I mean in Ed's world you need to come from a family of Hampstead intellectuals. In David's you need to marry into one of the biggest land-owning dynasties in Britain. But get to the top of the pile by going to a crummy school, watching your dad count the pennies and then getting a real job before going into Parliament? Well now, how courageous, inspiring and, yes, unlikely.

Politics is not alone. The legal profession would like to be meritocratic but really it's just full of children of wealthy families, and on the whole that's mostly true of the media too. But making money in the City? Is that really the only meritocratic cornerstone of our little London bubble? And if it is, is that why perhaps everything went so spectacularly wrong? Because if you want to get ahead, you can either be the best - or you can cheat. Background means nothing, results are all.

I recently came across a book by American journalist Christopher Hayes, Twilight Of The Elites, in which he lays the blame for America's woes at the feet of the well-raised few who control all the levers.

As one critic's analysis of the book goes: 'Meritocratic elites may rise on the basis of grades, effort and merit, but, to preserve their status, they become corrupt. They create wildly unequal societies, and then they rig things so that few can climb the ladders behind them. Meritocracy leads to oligarchy'.

I hope, when my fund manager and I cheer our children's graduation, his thesis remains true. And that the child of a shopowner is running the country.