Michael Gove criticises 'ridiculous' number of PM's Etonians

Boys race their way to chapel across the historic cobbled School Yard of Eton College on 17 November 2007 Historic Eton College has produced 19 of Britain's prime ministers

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The number of former Eton pupils in Prime Minister David Cameron's inner circle is "ridiculous", Education Secretary Michael Gove has said.

Mr Cameron is himself an Old Etonian, as is chief of staff Ed Llewellyn and minister for government policy Oliver Letwin, among others.

"I don't know where you can find some such similar situation in a developed economy," he told the Financial Times.

Labour said it was a reflection of the Conservative Party under Mr Cameron.

'It's preposterous'

In an interview in Saturday's FT, the education secretary said: "It doesn't make me feel personally uncomfortable, because I like each of the individuals concerned.

Start Quote

It's up to David Cameron who he puts into top jobs, and the fact is that the prime minister has chosen to surround himself with people just like himself”

End Quote Jon Ashworth Shadow Cabinet Office minister

"But it's ridiculous. I don't know where you can find a similar situation in any other developed economy."

The FT said Mr Gove was reflecting on the number of those close to the prime minister who were educated, like Mr Cameron, at the boys' independent school.

Among the other Old Etonians in Mr Cameron's inner circle are policy unit head Jo Johnson and Chancellor George Osborne's chief economic adviser, Rupert Harrison.

And the prestigious school has produced 19 prime ministers of Great Britain, one of Northern Ireland, and also educated the former prime minister of Thailand, Abhisit Vejjajiva.

It would be wrong to blame the individuals concerned, said Mr Gove, but he added: "It's a function of the fact that, as we pointed out a couple of years ago, more boys from Eton went to Oxford and Cambridge than boys eligible for free school meals."

Mr Gove appeared to draw a parallel between Mr Cameron and the 19th and early 20th Century Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, who is partly remembered for appointing his nephew to the cabinet.

He said: "At the beginning of the 20th Century, the Conservative cabinet was called Hotel Cecil. The phrase 'Bob's your uncle' came about. It's preposterous."

Mr Gove was educated at a state school before winning a scholarship to the independent Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen.

Education Secretary Michael Gove Michael Gove's comments were seized upon by Labour who said it showed the government was out of touch

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Ashworth said that the number of former Eton pupils in Mr Cameron's inner-circle was further evidence that his decisions "helped a privileged few rather than hard-working families".

He said: "It's up to David Cameron who he puts into top jobs, and the fact is that the prime minister has chosen to surround himself with people just like himself.

"He's leading a government that's completely out of touch."

But in the same interview Mr Gove also set out why the education system was so important to him, and said that his own parents made "sacrifices" to pay for his.

"Two things in particular have determined the course of my life," he said.

"The first being adopted by my parents, and the second the decisions they made about schools that I went to, and the support that they gave me."

'Phenomenal'

He also said he would like to continue as education secretary if the Conservative Party won the next election, but admitted that he did not "have what it takes" to be the leader of his party.

He said: "You've got to have that extra spark of charisma and star quality. David has it, George has it and Boris has it.

"And I don't think I do. It's like if you're an actor: some people are going to be the leading man like George Clooney and there are others destined to be the leading's man best friend. Other people can be Sherlock Holmes - I'm very lucky if I can be Dr Watson."

He added: "I don't have what it takes... I have seen David close up on a variety of occasions: he just has an equanimity and stamina, a sense of calm, good judgement.

"The pressure of the job is phenomenal and it takes a toll on you and your family and I don't think I could do that."

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  86.  
    11:55: 'No-go areas' Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    Quentin Letts, the Daily Mail sketchwriter, is on BBC Two's Daily Politics talking about the issues the political parties would rather steer clear of. Neither the Conservatives nor Labour want to discuss Trident, he claims, while the Liberal Democrats are keen to avoid talking about anything connected with tuition fees. "There are issues that are of great interest to the voters, and yet the politicians are shying away from it," Letts says. "It's totally unsustainable, particularly with such a long election campaign."

     
  87.  
    11:52: 'Responsibility of the government' House of Commons Parliament

    Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Ivan Lewis cautions MPs on the government side about "believing everything that you read in the Sun" concerning alleged contacts between Labour and Sinn Fein.

    Conservative Andrew Robathan had suggested that Labour should speak to Sinn Fein about security in Northern Ireland.

    Mr Lewis says that Conservatives are asking that "the Labour party take responsibility for things that are clearly the responsibility of the government".

     
  88.  
    11:46: Daily Politics line-up

    Joining Andrew Neil and Jo Coburn on Daily Politics are ex-Conservative minister David Willetts and Labour's shadow minister Caroline Flint. They are discussing the suggestion that up to 100 Conservative MPs might oppose the plan to bring in standardised (plain) cigarette packaging.

    Daily Politics
     
  89.  
    11:42: Labour and Sinn Fein House of Commons Parliament

    Conservative MP Andrew Robathan asks about a story, reported in the Sun, that "the Labour party have been talking to Sinn Fein about a possible link-up after the election".

    A cry of "absolute rubbish!" is heard from the Labour benches.

     
  90.  
    11:38: Northern Ireland questions House of Commons Parliament

    Northern Ireland questions have begun in the Commons. The first question is from Labour MP Tom Greatrex, about the the security situation in Northern Ireland. NI Secretary Theresa Villiers tells him the threat level remains "severe" but there have been "a number of significant arrests, charges and convictions".

     
  91.  
    @EmmaReynoldsMP 11:32: Emma Reynolds, shadow housing minister

    tweets: Since 2010 we have been building 356 fewer homes than we need - Gov't is presiding over the lowest level of house building since 1920s.

     
  92.  
    11:24: 'Trojan horse' plot

    Chief Inspector of Schools Sir Michael Wilshaw has called on the Department for Education to do more to help schools involved in the alleged "Trojan horse" plot in Birmingham to recruit more good staff. "There are big problems about leadership and staffing, in recruiting people," Sir Michael says.

    Sir Michael Wilshaw
     
  93.  
    11:23: Commons questions House of Commons Parliament

    MPs will meet in the House of Commons in a few minutes' time.

    Prime Minister's Questions is at noon and Labour's urgent question on the NHS will follow.

    First, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers will take questions from MPs. That's from 11:30 GMT.

     
  94.  
    11:14: Ambulance times 'worst on record'

    Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's tweets refer to the story emerging from Wales today that its ambulance response times are the worst ever. Just 42.6% of call-outs met the eight-minute target time in December, well below the 65% target. Tracy Myhill, interim chief executive at the Welsh Ambulance Service, has conceded the figures are "unacceptable" - but also points out the 40,000 calls received that month are a record high.

    Ambulances at a hospital The Welsh Ambulance Service has said it was working to address underlying issues
     
  95.  
    11:11: Urgent question

    We'll be hearing plenty more about hospitals' "major incidents" in the House of Commons today. Labour's Andy Burnham has just been granted an urgent question on today's developments, which will follow PMQs. Will Ed Miliband choose the same subject for his clash with David Cameron?

     
  96.  
    11:10: Strike news

    The PCS union says workers at the National Gallery in London are to stage a five-day strike in a row over the privatisation of services.

    National Gallery staff protest
     
  97.  
    11:04: Hunt hits back

    More from Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has responded to Labour criticism over revised guidance on when some hospitals can call a "major incident". In a series of tweets, he says a local decision taken in the West Midlands has been "cynically exploited" by Labour's Andy Burnham and criticises the NHS in Wales, for which Labour is responsible.

    Jeremy Hunt tweets
     
  98.  
    Sebastian Payne, The Spectator

    tweets: I'm going to be covering #GE2015 for @spectator in a Mini. Track my progress at http://specc.ie/1CcLE4b #MiniElection

    Sebastian Payne
     
  99.  
    10:55: Trident staying put

    A Ministry of Defence spokesman denies a report in the Daily Mail that officials are examining plans to move the Trident nuclear fleet from Scotland to Wales.

    The spokesman says: "The Ministry of Defence is not doing any work on this. There are no plans to move the deterrent."

    Trident
     
  100.  
    10:52: Ofsted under scrutiny

    MPs continue to press Sir Michael Wilshaw - they want to know whether allegations that inspectors asked children inappropriate questions about sexuality and faith are true. He's insisting that, having "looked at the evidence base thoroughly", there is "no evidence to suggest inspectors used inappropriate language to these children". What the inspectors were trying to establish, he explains, is whether homophobic bullying was taking place. So they had to use direct language in order to establish this.

     

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