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GW: Meanwhile, what is a culture? Clearly it is linked to education, a subject of which I try not to talk too much now because it's very easy to bore oneself. In parallel to what you are talking about you have had a huge decline in meritocracy in Britain. Since I wrote my book on the new elites several things have come to pass. One is that the gap in Britain between private schools and state schools is now the biggest in the Western world. One reason for that is because the average private school is very good compared with its equivalents in the rest of the world. 

I should stress that I don't believe in meritocracy any more than I believe in democracy. I just think that they are the least worst systems. Given that his father, Lord Young, was the author of The Rise of the Meritocracy, it is incidentally quite ironic that Toby Young is setting up a free school that if it had a meritocratic, selective system, could probably get him arrested for misuse of public funds. I think that Michael Gove is pointing in the right direction, but there is one essential point which he shuns and that is the selection issue. Cameron, like the Left, is viscerally against it. Do you remember the row that came up about new grammar schools? The whole idea of these ghastly aspiring lower-middle classes doesn't please him. But in the private sector, one of the reasons for its success is that it's rigorously selective academically, generally speaking, it's rigorously selective financially and it's selective socially. And so you have a situation which is paralleled in no other country where selection and to a great degree aspiration is for the seven per cent at the top of society. It's not only discouraged but also banned in the rest of society, except of course in existing grammar schools.

NC: Let's agree on something. Obviously if you abolish selection in the state system you are going to give the wealthy the greatest advantage. Abolishing grammar schools was the biggest favour the Labour movement did for the British rich, without doubt. If you have a private selective system and a state comprehensive system you end up with David Cameron or Nick Clegg. And in some ways it's not wrong to have Cameron and Clegg in power. At least they've had a decent education. People at the top of British politics have either come come from the Scottish education system, which isn't that bad, or the English private system. Hardly anyone has come from the English comprehensive system. And let's also agree that what makes privilege very hard to fight in Britain is that it is privilege protected by a bodyguard of egalitarians.

If you were to say we need selection in state schools to help working- and middle-class children, the presenters on the Today programme would — well, I actually once heard Sarah Montague virtually squeak when someone mentioned selection in the state system. And of course, she went to a private school, which is a highly selective, highly privileged system. And if you were to say to her, "Well, look Sarah, you're just following the interests of your class," she probably wouldn't understand you. And in her mind she thinks she's being liberal and radical and fair-minded. 

GW: The other thing she would say would be, oh you want to go back to the 11-plus, just as if you criticise the gap between state and private schools you are told you want to abolish private schools. These are all reasons why I abstract myself from this debate. It is demeaning to be involved in the subject on that level. There isn't in my view a serious debate on education because no one is willing to tackle this selection issue. 

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March 28th, 2013
4:03 PM
There certainly are examples of playing down to the lowest cultural levels - and very embarrassing they are, to choose just one relatively harmless effect of this. I am not sure Cameron adopting something by Tracy Emin is an example of that though. Isn't she typical rather, of the taste the cultural elite than of the underclass - most of whom would probably see it for the rubbish it is better than the elite would?

March 11th, 2013
8:03 AM
'we have the worst underclass in Europe and we've seen their powers of destruction.' No you haven't. And you probably never will. No group of people would tolerate the kind of unpleasantness that is being dished out to them by the likes of the rather strange looking fellows in the illustration accompanying this article and willingly sacrifice themselves as cannon fodder again. 'Most squaddies come from council estates' David Starkey, CBE, FSA But not for much longer.

Bob Hunt
March 2nd, 2013
1:03 AM
Dear Sir, I am very interested in the fact that no British bank went under in the twenties or thirties. How was this possible?

RHJ King
October 29th, 2012
2:10 AM
I'll grant that there were a few interesting points made over these ten pages, but am quite surprised how the conversation fizzled into the ether with an unchallenged bit of silliness. Regardless of how much Nick Cohen would like to think that the "model has fallen apart", there is no avoiding the fact that for decades one 'elite' or another has had a wrench in the gears of the free market system. The western social democratic model in all its guises throughout the world is floundering and has neither the skills nor the belief system to support a stable economy, let alone one that is faltering. The notion that trade unions and bureaucrats aren't to blame can also be questioned. If the recent riots are not a direct cultural descendent of the labour unrest of the 70's, what is it? And, please, just look at the size and cost of the modern bureaucracy and the debt they insist on accruing. What we require is the impossible: among other things- less government (particularly left of center so called conservatives), a revamped educational system that will teach self reliance, and some old fashioned hard work. What we will get is more of the same 'ghastly demotivating' statism.

December 29th, 2011
4:12 PM
"It is impossible for serious people to believe in God any more, or at least the God of the Bible, the God of the Koran, the God of the Torah. You just can't do it." Nick this is the silliest comment you have made in this interview. It is obvious that serious people do believe in God and precisely in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Who could be more serious than Benedict XVI, John Paul II, Jonathon Sacks, Jacques Delors, Angela Merket, etc., etc. I would say that not believing in God is extremely frivolous and adolescent. Most public atheists, if they were once had faith, lost it in their teens. But this means that they are locked into an adolescent syndrome with regard to what is the most serious question that can be asked: does God exist? They fail to grow spiritually even if they become brilliant scientists, writers, mathematicians, etc.

December 24th, 2011
9:12 PM
Iv been checking for a few weeks now and I can't believe no-one has bothered commenting on this! George Walden's, New Elites, is a philosophical classic and once read, you will see the sh'it were in in an entirely different, and even original, way. New Elites peels away the lazy cobwebs we operate in and opens a new angle to explore. A bit like Orwell and Huxley, but for today. So it's a damn shame that I am the only person bothering to comment. Now that's intelligence for you! Now what time is The X Factor playing?

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