Eton exam question: “You are the prime minister”

by Toby Manhire / 29 May, 2013
Eton College, wellspring of 19 prime ministers, asks pupils to put themselves in the shoes of the top guy.
In the United Kingdom, Eton College and No 10 Downing Street go together like Morecambe and Wise.

Or just about: of 53 prime ministers, 19, including the chap currently in charge, David Cameron, went to the school for the super-posh.

And so it was with some delight that a paper from the 2011 Eton scholarship exam (PDF) was being circulated online last week.

One question in particular stood out:

The year is 2040. There have been riots in the streets of London after Britain has run out of petrol because of an oil crisis in the Middle East. Protesters have attacked public buildings. Several policemen have died. Consequently, the Government has deployed the Army to curb the protests. After two days the protests have been stopped but twenty-five protesters have been killed by the Army. You are the Prime Minister. Write the script for a speech to be broadcast to the nation in which you explain why employing the Army against violent protesters was the only option available to you and one which was both necessary and moral.

The paper emerged as another Old Etonian staffer was installed at Downing Street, and Eton headmaster Tony Little has gone on the defensive, insisting that the school likes students to imagine themselves in all sorts of shoes – and that they have no particular political view.

“And yet,” writes Thomas Jones in the London Review of Books, “for some reason all six Old Etonian prime ministers since 1900 have been Tories.”

Twenty Old Etonians were elected to the House of Commons in 2010; all of them sit on the government benches (19 Conservatives, one Lib Dem). And none of them, if government policy is anything to go by, seem to be much good at putting themselves in other people’s shoes, except possibly each other’s.

And he concludes:

The exam paper ends with some maths questions: ‘Peter is having a large conservatory built at the back of his house… How many days’ labour will Peter have to pay for?’

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