Ed Miliband : same school ; different road

Ed (left) and David Miliband

Labour’s new leader looks like being under the thumb of the unions — harking back to the bad old days of the 1970s, says Boris Johnson.

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It is an unsettling fact that I went to the same school as the party leader.  Indeed, there are some people who have taken to complaining about this coincidence.  They say it is unacceptable in the 21st century that so much political power should be concentrated in the old boys of one educational establishment.  It is a sign, they say, that the country has failed to move on.

Both of us went to the same institution of ancient rituals and gorgeous brickwork, ideally situated by one of the nation’s most famous waterways and blessed with lush green spaces nearby.  It is a forcing-house of talent, where the offspring of privilege acquire that patina of good manners, the ever so slightly infuriating habit of putting people at their ease, together with that sense of entitlement that propels them to the top and marks them out ever after as Old Primroseans.

Yes, amigos, it cannot be denied.  I attended the same Camden primary school as the new Labour leader Ed Miliband (and his brother David) — and what a fantastic place I remember it to be.  There may be some more recent alumni who will accuse me of sentimentality.  They may point out that things have got even better for the pupils of [Primrose Hill] Primary School, Camden.

I am going to see for myself fairly soon, but a glance at the website certainly reveals a happy and successful school.  You will read of outstanding commendations from ofsted, 99 per-cent.  attendance rates, abundant music lessons, exciting expeditions and a lunch menu of rich complexity by comparison with the stuff we were given in the 1970s.

You will be pleased to know that fish and chips have been replaced by breaded hoki and chipped potatoes with tartar sauce or ketchup, all of it approved by the Maritime Stewardship Council.

Today’s Primrose Hill Primary School seems to be of a piece with today’s London — a place vastly more prosperous and more at ease with itself than in that grim decade.  Which may seem paradoxical to some us who wore flares and grew up to the sound of Slade, because in so many ways you could argue that we had things better 37 years ago.

We didn’t worry so much about kids carrying knives, because a knife was generally thought to be a sneaky and cowardly way to fight.  In so far as we fought, we used our fists.

Indeed, one of my most mind-searing memories is of standing in the playground and challenging all-comers to a fight and then watching in horror as an enormously tall girl — she must have been at least two years older than me, I swear — detached herself from her friends and strolled in my direction.  After that things are a bit of a blur, except for a dim impression of the speed and solidity of her knuckles and a ring of laughing faces against the sky.  Made me what I am, I expect.

We didn’t worry about obesity.  We hadn’t even heard of the word.  I can’t think of a single one of us who was remotely portly — even me.  We guzzled Tizer and Spangles and Sherbet Fountains and didn’t seem to lose our whippet-like proportions.

Why was that, then?  Was it because we were mandatorily filled up, each and every one of us, by an identical school dinner of a kind that would make Jamie Oliver pass out?

Do you remember the liver that was positively green, and so knobbly and scarred that the only possible conclusion was that the cow in question had just lost a lifelong struggle with the bottle?  You had to eat it, or else you went hungry — because no one had a packed lunch.

Or was it because the grown-ups let us walk to school or muck about on bikes, even into the gloaming, without believing that every bush concealed a paedophile?

On which subject, I seem to remember that we had no particular shortage of male teachers, and our own class was led by a genial young man, laconic but inspiring, who used to put his feet up on the desk and open his copy — I kid you not — of The Daily Telegraph.

We were generally less obsessed with elf and safety, and though our knees were scabbed and our milk teeth were rotted by the Spangles, we developed exhilarating games that taught us about risk.  There were Evel Knievel experiments with ramps and bicycles, and in the school grounds there were two buildings so close together that you could wedge yourself between them and then lever yourself up, using only your feet and your back, until you were 20 feet off the ground.

First some daredevils did it; then we all followed the craze — though not many imitated the kid whose trick was to drink the water of the Grand Union Canal.

Yes, it was idyllic in the pre-paranoid 1970s, and you may by this stage be wondering what I mean when I say that things are so much better today.  Well, there was one thing that we did worry about — and that was the economy.

This was the era of the three-day week, and the lights going out, and capricious and arbitrary union power being used to bring the country to its knees.  It was a decade that culminated in our pathetic national capitulation to the imf.

I note that Ed Miliband has emerged blatantly from the bowels of the trade unions, and that it was thanks to union chiefs that he edged a millimetre ahead of the elder Miliband.  I note that he and other senior Labour figures are now pledging to support strike action — no matter how unreasonable, no matter how much damage it may do to the interests of the general public or the British economy — in the hope of scoring political points against the Coalition Government.

I note, in other words, that under Ed Miliband the trade unions seem set to dominate the Labour Party in exactly the way that Blair and Brown managed successfully to avoid.

There are many lessons from an inner London primary school in the 1970s — and it would be tragic if Ed were to take the wrong one.

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This article by Boris Johnson appears in to-day’s Daily Telegraph.

17 thoughts on “Ed Miliband : same school ; different road”

  1. ‘Strike action…against the Coalition Government’

    The public-sector strike action so righteously advocated by the leadership of Labour and the unions will not affect the Coalition Government.
    It will affect public sector employees, their families, and the public who need public services. So the policy of Labour and the union leaders will damage everyone except those who Labour and the unions are setting out to attack. Their policy will harm the very people they are paid to represent.

    They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Many years ago, Arthur Scargill’s union managed to strike itself into extinction. You’d think that nearly thirty years later, even the sons of a Marxist philosopher would, uh, ‘get it’.

    But could anyone ever accuse the socialists of learning from their own mistakes?

  2. Thank goodness I haven’t lived in the UK since the 1970s, Bob Crow sounds an old dinosaur, much as Hitler would have seemed in the 1930s, though probably a little less nasty. A little less nasty.

  3. Please read the rest of this before you moderate it.

    Your task is to try to imagine the experience of a northern grammar school boy in the 1980s travelling to Oxford in the early 80s full of optimism and then running into this lot (and plenty more almost as bad) who basically only want to be friends with their old public school chums.

    I would thoroughly discourage clever northerners from going to universities full of public schoolboys. I wish someone had given me the same advice.


    Here’s a link to Boris Johnson and his pals in the Bullingdon Dining Club.

  4. I’m already forming the impression that Ed Miliband takes his deeply-held convictions from the last set of people he was talking to. Perhaps his plan is to promise everything to everybody – after all, that worked for Tony.

    P.S. Did he learn Estuary English at Primrose Hill or has he taken elocution lessons?

  5. After becoming Labour party’s leader, Ed Miliband declared: ” I get it people were not prejudiced about immigration. They felt more anxious about their wages, conditions and housing ” (?)

    We all know the truth, folks – why do we have this coalition government when Labour was on its last breath?

    Of course immigration has always been a big serious problem. Why else Mrs Duffy made head lines for asking Gordon Brown a simple question about immigration.

    It’s because Labour failed to tackle immigration but Conservative also dared not tackle the problem head on.

    The result was we had a hung parliament. The voters did not see any better parties to vote for.

  6. Older readers, squirming through the Miliband drivel, may have recalled a popular singing group, who sang,

    “We’re the New Generation, and we’ve got something to say”

    I don’t think that the Monkees ever did tell us what it was they had to say, either.

  7. Boris you’re not doing your day job.

    You’re telling Londoners to get on their bikes because of the tube strikes when you should be meeting the unions and sorting the tube strikes out. One of the unions hasn’t been on strike on the underground since 1926 You get paid £250,000 to write your Daily Telegraph column. Isn’t it about time that you dropped the Daily Telegraph and concentrated on Londoner’s daily commute to work.

  8. But Ed, the Monkees *did* tell us what they had to say. They said they’re planning on stalking us. The very next bit of the song is:

    “Anytime or anywhere – Just look over your shoulder. Guess who’ll be standing there.”


  9. Ed and Gotham Girl :  I suspect that Ed Miliband is inspired to allude to his generation less by The Monkees than by The Who.  I think what he was trying to say to MM. Blair, Brown et al. was something along the lines of —

    “Why don’t you all fffffade away ?”

    or (perhaps) —

    “I hope you die before I get old.”


  10. Good point, Pericles. Well done.

    And besides [insert useless pop culture trivia here], Ed Miliband is too young to be inspired by the Monkees. By the time young Ed was born, the Monkees were down to only two of the original four and had been off the air for over a year.

    Sigh. I know far too much about The Monkees. Honestly, it’s amazing I have room left in my head for anything else with all this pointless minutia cluttering up the place.

  11. The Sun 29/9/10: ” … David and Ed Miliband’ parents: Ralph and Marion.

    Jewish and Belgium-born Ralph, aged 20, scrambled onto a boat to England in 1940, forced to leave his first wife behind in Belgium as Hitler’s army closed in.

    Polish Marion, aged 5, lived on the run, first in a convent, then with a Catholic familie before fleeing to England, too.

    Years later in England, Ralph met Marion and married her. They have 2 sons David and Ed.

    In England, Ralph became a Marxist academic (!) and Marion a Marxist-socialist activist (!).

    Labour new leader Ed Miliband said: ” My love for this country comes from this story. Two young people fled the darkness that had engulfed across Europe. And they found the light of liberty in Britain. Our parents told us: ” Freedom and opportunity are precious gifts to mankind! ” … ” (!)

    I don’t get it. First they said they had found freedom, light of liberty, opportunity blah blah blah… in Britain, then later he became a… Marxist academic (!) and she a Marxist-socialist activist (!). In another word: he a communist brain-washer and she a communist troubles-stirrer.

    How ironic, don’t you think? Because the things they consider precious to mankind and the things they said they love about Britain are unavailable to people in communist countries. The very communism they support all their adult lives.

    How ironic, don’t you think? Because had they stayed put in communist-Marxist Poland and he became a capitalist academic and she a capitalist troubles-stirrer, the communists would have shot them by now. Or at least would have sent them to a hard labour camp called a gulag for their crime of having a different political faith.

    Talk about shameless, po-faced people.

  12. The Millibands look like a pair of twats!Whether they are twats or not twats.Twatish looking people don’t win elections.

  13. Ol’ Tom’s shrewd analysis of Labour’s electoral prospects is also succinct and accurate. How many words have been written by how many highly-paid poseurs of the commentariat, and yet failed to arrive at this simple truth?

  14. Lovely story Boris,I too attended a Camden school (Christchurh) just down the road from Primrose Hill.But hey you can’t take the blame for your old schoolmates can you? Take for instance your holiday companion of years back and ex school chum at Eton/Oxford Abhisit Vejjajiva.He refused pleas from EU mediators and sent his military backers into downtown Bangkok,where they declared a “live fire zone” and cold bloodedly shot anyone in sight.Pregnant women children,journalists,innocent bystanders,protestors.You name it they killed them,and all ordered by your old friend.Funny old world isn’t it.

  15. It is a strange world. I went to the same primary school as David Cameron but I am unemployed and disabled while he is running the country. My brother is a medic so if I hadn’t been ill who knows?

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