Clearing a blocked sink at 1am in a beer can strewn kitchen, I don't feel one of the hated elite, writes TOM UTLEY 

The other night I arrived home late, exhausted after ten hours at the office, to find my wife had gone to bed, the dog had been copiously sick on the kitchen floor and the sink was blocked, yet again.

A plaintive note from Mrs U, propped behind the taps, said: ‘Sorry, darl, can you work your magic on this? The plunger doesn’t seem to work xxx.’

On the table lay the detritus of an impromptu party — scrunched-up beer cans, ashtrays overflowing with the butts of skinny roll-ups, the shattered remains of an exploding crisp packet and a sticky, dried-up sea of unidentifiable gloop.

On the table lay the detritus of an impromptu party - scrunched up beer cans... a dried up sea of gloop

On the table lay the detritus of an impromptu party - scrunched up beer cans... a dried up sea of gloop

One or more of our sons (three are in residence as I write, all in their 20s) had clearly had some mates round, before heading off for a night on the town.

Waiting by the microwave was a portion of spag bol, left for my supper by my wife. Or rather, half a portion. Beside it stood a second explanatory note, in another hand: ‘Hope you’re not too hungry, Dad. Couldn’t resist. Soz xxx.’

Ah, well, perhaps I should count myself lucky that the boy had been kind enough to leave me anything at all. But first things first. My meagre mouthful would have to wait until I’d tackled the grim task of unblocking that sink.

It’s a routine I’ve come to know well over the years. Step one: take off jacket and scrabble for the bucket in the cupboard under the stairs, beneath a mountain of vacuum cleaner accessories, SodaStreams, George Foreman grills, sleeping bags and stringless guitars.


Step two: tug bucket free of the accumulated clutter of the decades — getting hit on the head in the process by the folded-up ironing board and a cascade of brooms, mops and tent poles.

Step three: roll up sleeves, get down on hands and knees by the cupboard under the sink and begin the laborious business of removing its contents — bottles of Domestos, Windolene, Cif and Flash, tins of brass and silver polish, cans of Pledge and Mr Muscle, packets of washing powder and dishwasher tablets.

Mrs U left a note which claimed that the trusty plunger no longer seemed to work, file photograph 

Mrs U left a note which claimed that the trusty plunger no longer seemed to work, file photograph 

At last comes the seriously unpleasant bit: place bucket under sink, unscrew U-bend, get drenched in a torrent of rank, greasy water, most of it missing the bucket, as the brimful sink drains. Then, using a wire coat hanger, poke out the revolting plug of congealed lamb fat that has been causing the blockage.

I had just reached this stage, my head still under the sink, when the revellers rolled home from the pub. By then, it was getting on for 1am.

‘Oh hi, Dad. Had a good day?’

‘Not really, no. What about you? How’s the famous job hunt going?’

‘Right. Yeah. Well. The job hunt begins in earnest tomorrow.’ (If only I had a tenner for every time I’ve heard those words over the past few months!) Still on all fours, I pulled my head out of the cupboard, turned to glower at the boy . . . and stuck my knee straight into the middle of the pile of dog vomit on the floor.

Reader, I have to tell you that it’s at times such as these — when I’m tired and hungry, on my hands and knees in a puddle of greasy water in a kitchen strewn with fag-ends and beer cans, up to my elbows in foul-smelling lamb fat and feeling the regurgitated remains of Matilda’s dinner seeping through my suit trousers — it’s at times such as these that I don’t really feel like a representative of the gilded elite, a pampered beneficiary of all the privileges the closed shop British Establishment can bestow on a man and an object of envy and resentment to the downtrodden masses.

So, I suppose I should be grateful to the former Labour Cabinet minister Alan Milburn for reminding me this week that this is precisely what I am.

Castigating the UK’s ‘deeply elitist’ society, he and his Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission have found, to no one’s astonishment, that a hugely disproportionate number of the best paid and most influential jobs in this country go to the products of independent schools and just two universities (there are no prizes for guessing which).


I stand before you guilty on all counts. For I am one of the 47 per cent of newspaper columnists — and I confess that I was surprised by quite how high the figure is — who went to Oxford or Cambridge (in my case, the latter).

Apparently, I share this shame or distinction with 75 per cent of senior judges, 59 per cent of Cabinet ministers, 57 per cent of Whitehall permanent secretaries, 50 per cent of diplomats and 33 per cent of BBC executives — though only 1 per cent of the population at large.

I should admit, too, that I am at least the fourth generation of my family to have attended Oxbridge — a fact that strongly supports Mr Milburn’s contention that our two oldest universities are bastions of entrenched privilege (or at least that they were in my day). As for my schooling, I went to fee-paying Westminster, then as now one of the surest and smoothest routes to a place at Oxford or Cambridge.

Indeed, earlier this month, a separate study showed that mine was one of only five schools — the others were Eton, St Paul’s and two sixth-form colleges — that between them sent as many pupils to Oxbridge in 2011/2012 as 1,800 state schools put together.

According to Mr Milburn’s outfit, other beneficiaries of private education include 71 per cent of senior judges, 62 per cent of senior Armed Forces officers, 55 per cent of Permanent Secretaries, 53 per cent of diplomats, 44 per cent on the Sunday Times Rich List, 36 per cent of Cabinet ministers, 35 per cent of national rugby team players, 33 per cent of England cricketers — oh, and 22 per cent of Ed Miliband’s front-bench team of class warriors.

Set these figures beside the mere 7 per cent of the population at large who went to independent schools and it’s crystal clear that those whose parents pay fees — or who are clever or sporty enough to win scholarships — have a monumental advantage over the other 93 per cent.


So, how much does all this matter? Well, I have to say I don’t find it particularly disturbing that so many who land influential jobs went to Oxford or Cambridge.

In most fields, these are the two best universities in the land — and it cannot, surely, be a bad thing that our top judges had the best legal education available or that our politicians were taught by some of the country’s best teachers (though I grant you the present bunch of MPs — 24 per cent of whom went to Oxbridge — are not the most shining advertisements for the ancient universities).

What is far more worrying is that state school pupils, whose parents can’t pay fees, have so much harder a time gaining the skills and qualifications needed to win places at the best universities. The result is that social mobility has all but ground to a halt in this country, with the occupants of the top jobs drawn increasingly from similar, privileged family backgrounds.

I don¿t find it particularly disturbing that so many who land influential jobs went to Oxford or Cambridge

I don’t find it particularly disturbing that so many who land influential jobs went to Oxford or Cambridge

We all know why this is — and it’s not because Oxford and Cambridge have a snobbish objection to state-educated pupils. On the contrary, they are keener than ever to spot nuturable talent among applicants from working-class families.

No, the slow death of social mobility in modern Britain can be dated almost precisely to the abolition of selection in state education. Surely, the answer is not to lower entrance requirements for the best universities or deliberately to recruit judges and civil servants from lesser institutions. Can’t everyone see that it’s simply to bring back grammar schools?

One final plea. Spare me, I beg you, the online abuse, class hatred and envy that so often follow my musings on my privileged education.

Believe me, as a man wallowing in stinking fat and dog vomit, membership of Britain’s gilded elite is not always what it’s cracked up to be.