Newspaper article International New York Times

A True Tory Assails U.K. Class Divide

Newspaper article International New York Times

A True Tory Assails U.K. Class Divide

Article excerpt

Sir John Major has grabbed headlines by assailing growing imbalances in British society, bemoaning the hardships facing hard- working "silent have-nots."

Since he was pushed from the prime minister's office by Tony Blair in 1997, John Major has shown little eagerness to scramble back onto the political barricades, but in recent weeks the reticence seems to have eased.

In a series of headline-grabbing utterances, Mr. Major has assailed growing imbalances in British society, bemoaning the hardships facing the "silent have-nots" who "work hard, obey the law, hope for a better future" yet fall "behind through no fault of their own."

"And how do I know about these people?" he asked, evoking his youthful years living in a rented, two-room apartment in hardscrabble Brixton. "Because I grew up with them."

The idea of a former Conservative prime minister, knight of the realm and post-prime-ministerial exponent of private equity investment embracing such egalitarian views seemed somewhat disconcerting to his successors at the helm of Britain's Tories.

But nothing unsettled them as much as a broadside against the perceived stranglehold on Britain's public life exerted by those politicians who benefit from wealth and private education.

"In every single sphere of British influence, the upper echelons of power in 2013 are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class," he said. "To me, from my background, I find that truly shocking."

He did not name names. He did not need to. In case anyone might have missed it, most newspapers were quick to point out that Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Mayor Boris Johnson of London were all educated in private fee-paying schools. Add in politicians from the opposition Labour Party who went from state-financed schools to top universities, and the list of privilege lengthens.

Mr. Major, by contrast, left a state school at age 16 with limited academic qualifications.

The class war, of course, is an old and unresolved battle in Britain. But the significance of Mr. …

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