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What if…Boris Johnson had gone to a state school?

How different would be Boris Johnson's personality and politics if he had gone to a state school? SaySo asked a range of experts


Dr Matt Dickson, Reader in Public Policy at the Institute for Policy Research
As an economist I am fond of the expression that “the best economists have dirty shoes”. It reflects the truth that while crunching numbers can tell you a lot, to really understand your society you need to get out there and talk to people and live in the real world.The danger of politicians coming from a very narrow strata of society – attending the same elite schools and the same elite higher education institutions – is that they never get their shoes dirty in the real world that the other 99% of society live in.School years, particularly secondary school years, are so incredibly important in a person’s development, the formation of their ideas, values and character, that it inevitably shapes a person’s future outlook if those years are spent in a very abnormally privileged school, mixing only with other similarly privileged people.I think that if Boris Johnson had instead attended a comprehensive school, he would have a much better understanding of the people who make up this country, what our struggles are, our passions, our fears, our different cultures.

Being educated in a comprehensive would force them to exist within the mix of society as it really is – having to get along with people from all backgrounds and learn how to understand those who come from very different families to their own. This would engender a greater degree of empathy for the average person in this country, something I suspect he lacks at present.

This is not to say that politicians from the elite of society cannot listen and learn from talking to their constituents, of course they can and do. But living, learning and working alongside a broader mix of people for five or more of their formative years would certainly ensure their shoes were dirty and this would no doubt be of great benefit to themselves as people and to the constituents they are now required to represent in Parliament.

Professor Hugh Lauder of the Department of Education at the University of Bath
It is very clear that his attitude to those who have gone to comps is at best distanced and at worst patronising. This is because he believes, in part because of Eton, that they are entitled to rule. I note that a recent Headteacher at Eton regards Johnson, Rees-Mogg and Camerson as having brought the school into disrepute.

Professor Danny Dorling, the Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford
We would not know because he would almost certainly not have become a Conservative MP. The chance of him doing so would have been at least one thousand times less.

Dr Peter Allen, Reader, Politics, Languages & International Studies at the University of Bath
Academic research on political representation has come to a consensus of sorts on the question of whether individual characteristics affect the behaviour of elected politicians – they do.

Women appear to be more inclined to legislate in ways that can be interpreted as providing better representation of women’s interests, the rich seem to do the same for their rich constituents, and black and minority ethnic politicians take a greater interest in the representation of BME communities and issues that disproportionately affect them. This might be the result of electoral incentives to represent certain interest groups, or it could be reflective of shared material interests.

But we also think it is likely an outcome of the experiences undergone by individuals throughout their lives had been different, it is likely that their perspective and outlook would be different. They would have met different people, learned different social norms and expected behaviours, and may have a different understanding of how and why certain social issues develop in the way they do. So, all in all, I would expect that their politics, their attitudes, and their interests would have been very different.”

Miranda Doyle, author of A Book of Untruths
As in all adolescent environments there are winners and losers. I suspect that at least one of these Etonions – Johnson, Rees-Mogg and Cameron – may have been a chronic loser, unloveable to everyone but Nanny. Which has had its ghastly effect on us all.  For in every boarding school community survival requires the individual to have no compassion, not even for themselves.

If these men weren’t so poisonous I’d be suggesting that we express only pity. Anything good, or vulnerable about them has been long, long, long worn out.

So rather than privileging argument over solutions, these politicians, had they attended the local comprehensive, may have learned compromise. For sure they would be less arrogant, less ignorant and more self aware.’

Dr David Moon, Senior Lecturer, Politics, Languages & International Studies at the University of Bath
Socialisation is not merely an issue of the school one attends, even if it’s significant. But with their families… there was no real chance.”

Professor Steven Fielding, Department of Political History, Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Nottingham
I don’t think it would be that different. While Johnson would have mixed with different kinds of people (although presumably they’d go to a comp in a pretty affluent area) at home they would still enjoy all the advantages of their privileged lives.

Views compiled by Jennet Jumayeva

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