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Oakeshott at Gordonstoun

Isabel Oakeshott, political commentator, ex-Daily Mail editor-at-large, and a relative of Life Peer Baron Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, hilariously underestimated her own financial privilege after posting a deluded tweet that tore into benefits claimants.

After revealing that she believes that anyone receiving benefits to survive has no entitlement to live in desirable areas of London, she was asked about her own entitlement, to which she replied.

This claim was quickly shown to be nonsense: Oakeshott was educated at prestigious Gordonstoun School, where fees start at £24,855 per year.

Quick to defend her position after this was pointed out, she stated that she was awarded a scholarship. However, this only prompted Twitter users to call out the growing hypocrisy of Oakeshott’s bitterness against those who rely on financial aid.

Winning a scholarship implies privilege

Let’s ignore (as she does) the fact that somebody paid for the exclusive education she received. Her argument seems to be that she won her scholarship at her school through brilliance, rather than it being paid for; the obvious suggestion being that others had the chance to do the same, supporting her claim that she had no privilege.

However, many school scholarships are based on achieving good results at a young age in some sort of exam, much like qualifying for entry into grammar schools with the ’11+’. Research consistently says that these kinds of tests simply favour the wealthier social classes, rather than being any measure of actual ability or potential.

Andreas Schleicher, from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), is just one of many experts critical of selective education, stating:

Schools are very good at selecting students by their social background, but they’re not very good at selecting students by their academic potential.

He went further to say:

Any kind of one-off test is likely to favour social background over true academic potential.

Ms Oakeshott may wish people to think she made it all by herself, but the evidence suggests her high-quality education was less a matter of her succeeding by herself and more a result of her social class.

Social cleansing

Despite the enjoyment in watching Oakeshott’s digging a hole for herself, it is important also not to lose sight of her original message in the ludicrous tweets.

Oakeshott is under the impression that people who rely on benefits to survive have no ‘entitlement’ to live in desirable parts of London. This view point is shared by many privileged, rich people who benefit financially from the removal of less-wealthy people from the city. Ongoing social cleansing has already seen ‘tens of thousands of families pushed out of London’.

The idea that someone who is wealthy has more entitlement to a place in a city than someone was born and raised there is heartless, to say the least. There is no suggestion of where these Londoners should live instead, simply that they should not live in “desirable” places.

Similar attitudes have become increasingly common lately, as the gentrification of London continues; last week we saw the hostile reactions as people accused Grenfell survivors of being ‘undeserving’ of help.

“No one ever makes it alone”

It is clear that Oakeshott has forgotten – or simply doesn’t understand – how privileged she and others in a similar position to her own actually are. There seems to be an unusual belief that they are there because they’ve earned their place without any outside forces, or help and support.

Can the rich honestly be under the impression that those who have to claim benefits simply didn’t try hard enough? It seems a little convenient that they have this delusion, stopping them from feeling obliged to help the less fortunate, yet this belief seems almost engrained into many judgmental people of privilege.

Perhaps we all need a stark reminder of what privilege actually is. As Malcolm Gladwell writes in Outliers, “No one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone”. An excellent explanation of how even small advantages can add up is the following comic:

Successful people claiming they have never have special privileges is insulting to both the people who have helped them to succeed and to the many who have never had their fair share of opportunities; it is time this myth was put to rest for good.

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