Why William Hague is wrong…

A curious intervention into the social mobility debate today by William Hague.  Speaking on Today, he said that it was harder today for a comprehensive-educated child to become Foreign Secretary, compared to when he left School in the 1980s.

It’s a curious claim because Hague himself was educated at a comp, as were his two predecessors as Foreign Secretary.  Go back to the early 1980s, and the Foreign Secretaries were:

Carrington: Eton

Pym: Eton

Howe: Winchester

It might be by this Hague meant that it will be harder for a child leaving a comprehensive school today to be become Foreign Secretary in the future – although how he knows that seems unclear, unless he has recently developed Mystic Meg-like powers.  But even this seems unlikely, if you look at the changing nature of the pool from which Foreign Secretaries are drawn – that is, MPs.  Because MPs have become increasingly likely to be drawn from state schools too.

As Byron Criddle points out in his chapter in this (rather good) book on the 2010 election, the propensity of Conservative MPs to have come from private schools has been in decline for decades.  If you take the last four Conservative victories, the figures are: 73% (1979), 70% (1983), 68% (1987), 62% (1992).  The figure for 2010 was even lower – at 54% – and of those MPs elected for the first time in 2010 the split was even between privately educated MPs.  Criddle also notes that ‘within the private school category, the presence of the famous elite schools has waned’, with fewer Etonians than ever before.  Criddle has elsewhere made the same point about their likelihood of being ministers.

The figure for privately educated Labour MPs in 2010 was 14%, about the same as it had been for several elections.

You might, of course, still think these figures are too high, and want to do something about them, but that’s a different issue. There’s no doubt about the direction of travel, even if we might worry about its speed: it is today more likely, not less, than it was 30 years ago that a state school child will go on to become Foreign Secretary.