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Monday 1st October 2012 | 15:58
Ed Balls has given a fascinating interview to Mehdi Hasan, and among the most striking bits was the section on his own private education.
The Shadow Chancellor admits that his dad was an active Labour party member who nevertheless decided to send his sons (Ed was 8) to the fee-paying Nottingham High School when the family moved to the city.
Asked if it was true that Balls Snr campaigned against the grammar school system in Norfolk before deciding to send Ed and his younger brother Andrew to the private school, he replies: “Yeh".
When asked how he defends such double standards, Balls replied with a very thoughtful: "As Ramsay Macdonald said...“there is sometimes no logic in the conduct of human affairs".
He goes on to say:
“Not sure I ever particularly thought of it as private school...Of course I knew there was a difference… we used to do a 10-mile bus ride, it was very academically intense, a boys school, it was very different.”
Mehdi takes up the story:
Did he like it? “Yeah.” He adds: “I’m sort of conflicted on this. I worked hard, enjoyed it, had a great time, but it’s not what I would choose again, for me. I’m not going to say my parents made the wrong choice; they actually made for them, and me, what they judged was the right choice.” Casting himself as a member of the “squeezed middle”, Balls says his parents “made massive sacrifices… I never went on an aeroplane till I was 21, we never left the country on a foreign holiday till I was 18. There was never any money at home.” Does he see private schools as a barrier to social mobility and social justice? “Of course that’s the case.”
So why not legislate to remove the charitable status for schools in the independent sector, as proposed by David Miliband during the Labour leadership election? He recoils. “You have to be careful on that, especially if you want to be chancellor, because it is something that’s easier to say than to do.” Ok, but does he have a principled objection to private education, as a believer in equality of opportunity? He hesitates. “I think, um, I’m not going to say that is what a Labour government should mandate. Of course I’d much rather live in a society where people didn’t feel that paying to be different was a step up the ladder. I’d much rather not live in that but we have to try and change the world that we find in a way that we can make a difference.”
Of course, the Balls-Coopers (their children all have the surname Cooper) can't be accused of double standards now in that they send their children to state schools. Their eldest attends a normal comp. And some would say that it's more politically relevant where an MP sends their children than where they were themselves sent by their own parents.
But it's still fascinating to hear Balls talk in shades of grey rather than black and white for once. At least where his and his father's own 'conflicted' views on private educaton are concerned.
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