Rough history: MPs and private schools

By Ian Dunt

They say Conservatives get in trouble because of sex, and Labour MPs get in trouble because of money. So it’s no surprise that Labour MPs are the ones who have found themselves in deep water when it comes to private education.

There’s a very traditional story arc. Labour MP spends career making firebrand left-wing speeches, denouncing colleagues for not putting their faith in the state sector. Labour MP’s child becomes a teenager. Labour MP sends child to a private school.

Case in point: Diane Abbott. One would have to be very foolish to claim Ms Abbott is not a creature of principle. She has exhibited that over and over again. And according to her son, it wasn’t her choice – he chose a private school. She merely went with his option.

Unfortunately, she had only just finished rebuking Tony Blair and Harriet Harman, then solicitor general, for both rejecting local comprehensives in their area. Ms Harman, for her part, simply opted for a grammar outside the constituency.

“She made the Labour party look as if we do one thing and say another,” was Ms Abbott’s conclusion. Her son told a radio show: “Mum didn’t force me to go to private school. I took the test for the schools I wanted to go to and I chose the school I wanted to go to. If I had wanted to go to a state school, my mum would have let me go to a state school.”

The extent of the media spotlight depends somewhat on your position. Ruth Kelly’s decision to enrol her children in a £15,000-a-year preparatory school raised eyebrows, primarily because of her former role as education secretary.

But once David Cameron decided to take his party down the progressive, touchy-feely route (somewhat forgotten since the recession hit), the Tories became fair game.

George Osborne, not a man known for his common touch, whatever his nickname was in university, came under fire in April last year for putting his son in the £11,376 preparatory school close to his west London home, withdrawing them from state school in the process.

The next chapter in the needless drama of MPs and schools will, for his sins, be Nick Clegg. The Lib Dem leader has wavered a little on the subject, but listening to him speak, it’s hard not to sympathise with his arguments.

“I am not holding my children’s future and education hostage to a game of political football. I am a father before a politician,” he told the Sunday Times last September.

His sons are young – Antonio is six and Alberto is four. Watch this space.