Lord Waldegrave threatened to resign from the Conservative party over a plan intended to boost the chances of state school pupils. He explains his point of view
William Waldegrave, provost of Eton college, is probably the poshest person I have met. That is not because he is Lord Waldegrave, which is just a common-or-garden life peerage awarded after he served 16 years as a Tory minister, but because his father was the 12th Earl Waldegrave and his elder brother is the 13th Earl. His sister Susan is lady-in-waiting to the Queen and godmother to Prince William; his brother was a page at the coronation. The earldom goes back to the early 18th century but the Waldegraves were big cheeses long before that: one was Speaker of the House of Commons during Richard IIs reign and another got a knighthood from Mary I plus the Chewton estate in Somerset, where William was brought up and still farms. When he went to boarding school, the train was pulled by a steam locomotive named Earl Waldegrave.
Waldegraves relationship with Eton has deep roots. He went there, as did his father, brother and son. His maternal grandfather played cricket for the Eton XI against Harrow at Lords in 1892 and another ancestor drowned in the college grounds.
It may seem unsurprising, then, that Waldegrave landed himself in controversy this summer over government attempts to increase social mobility. Matt Hancock, the then Cabinet Office minister, said he would order the civil service to ask applicants about their home backgrounds and schooling, and encourage other big employers to do the same. Children, Waldegrave protested, should not be punished for their parents decisions nor jobs filled by social engineering rather than merit. If there was more of this nonsense, he would resign from the Conservative party.
To anyone who knows Waldegrave, the threat came as a shock. He is not, for one thing, a very passionate person, admitting in his memoirs, published last year, that he didnt go into politics to advance some great cause but to deal with the problems one found through the application of as much intelligence as one could muster. When Kenneth Clarke upset doctors and nurses with changes to the NHS, Margaret Thatcher replaced him with Waldegrave because Kenneth has stirred them all up and I want you to calm them all down. And though he faithfully served Thatcher, he was always regarded as a wet, firmly on the partys left.