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PETER HITCHENS: In 20 years’ time Eton will be just a pricey Bog Lane comprehensive

Even the richest and most renowned of all the great public schools realised some time ago that, to be allowed to survive at all, they must submit to correction and purification. That is why the Eton teacher Will Knowland is now in trouble for expressing unfashionable opinions in a not-very-distinguished video

The cleverest revolutions are the ones where everything looks the same from the outside, but it has been totally altered on the inside. 

People find it hard to oppose or resist changes they cannot actually see. In recent years, the police, the BBC and the National Trust, for instance, have been transformed into nests of wokeness. 

But it wasn’t obvious until it was far too late to do anything. So nobody did.

Most do not spot these changes until it affects them personally. Even then, if there’s no actual announcement, many do not realise.

Long ago I worked for another newspaper, a mighty daily which had once been a great defender of traditional Britain. It changed hands. 

And one evening in the late 1990s, its senior writers (including me) were summoned to a dinner in the boardroom. There we were told the paper would from now on support New Labour and the ghastly Blair creature.

Those of us who found this repellent expected the readers to revolt when they discovered what was being done to their newspaper. But no such thing happened. Most of them did not even notice. The outward appearance stayed the same, and that did the trick.

So it is with Eton College and our supposedly conservative private schools. Parents in despair at the propaganda of the state schools may have thought they could escape it by paying huge fees. No chance. The forces of Cultural Revolution are in there too.

Eton may still have its silly fancy-dress uniform and its wall game, its stately buildings and grounds. But these survivals conceal the truth. 

Even the richest and most renowned of all the great public schools realised some time ago that, to be allowed to survive at all, they must submit to correction and purification. 

That is why the Eton teacher Will Knowland is now in trouble for expressing unfashionable opinions in a not-very-distinguished video. 

Parents in despair at the propaganda of the state schools may have thought they could escape it by paying huge fees. No chance. The forces of Cultural Revolution are in there too

Parents in despair at the propaganda of the state schools may have thought they could escape it by paying huge fees. No chance. The forces of Cultural Revolution are in there too

And it is why, whether he loses or wins his struggle for reinstatement, Left-wing conformism will now tighten its grip on the school.

Within 20 years, it will just be a very expensive version of Bog Lane Comprehensive, flying the Black Lives Matter flag on its gatehouse, alternating with the gay rights rainbow, the Extinction Rebellion banner or any of the other causes which must now be supported – or else.

Who can really blame it? This is just a mopping-up operation. The war which decided all these matters was finally lost long ago, when in the years before 2010 the Old Etonian David Cameron forced the Tory Party to take the yoke and support the Blairite revolution.

The Tories, even before then, had been worse than feeble. But Cameron wanted office at any price. And the price was that his Tories would be allowed back into office, provided they swallowed the Blairite programme and did not try to reverse it.

This was not so hard. For decades they had done nothing actually conservative. To switch to being actively Left-wing was not a huge leap. 

For instance, Trevor Phillips, when he was boss of the HQ of Political Correctness, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said in 2011 that the future Tory Premier Theresa May was ‘just as aggressive’ as Labour’s Harriet Harman on women’s equality. 

He added: ‘We should judge people not on their political label but what they are doing and what they deliver.’ Quite so.

The law which Eton’s politically correct Head Master, Simon Henderson, is using to justify his dismissal of Mr Knowland is Ms Harman’s 2010 Equality Act, which the Tories made no great effort to oppose, and never tried to repeal when they got power.

Put simply, this means there are now laws in this country preventing teachers from saying certain things – not incitement to violence or stupid rabble-rousing bigotry, just controversial and perhaps mistaken things that the dominant elite in our society have decided are ‘offensive’.

Under this Act, the law is all but certain to support the person who has complained about Mr Knowland. To remove any doubt that it applies to Eton, the mainly Tory Government in 2014 backed a revised version of the Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations originally introduced by Labour in 2003.

This repeatedly insists that private schools must ‘pay particular regard’ to the ‘protected characteristics’ set out in the Equality Act.

So, if a female employee believes she has been ‘humiliated, offended or degraded’, you are in deep, and probably expensive trouble. That is now the law of the land. You can object as much as you like, and go on about Eton’s great traditions as an independent school. A fuss may save the teacher’s job for now.

But Eton is not truly independent any more. It is – as Mr Knowland has discovered – just as Blairised as almost everything else in this unfortunate country.

This has happened. You just didn’t notice. The battle for Britain’s future was lost long before it arrived in the corridors of Eton.

Covid anger will only get worse

My thanks to all of you who responded to my plea to write to your MPs in advance of last Tuesday’s vote on the Government’s latest plan to destroy people’s jobs and make them miserable for no good reason.

I am sure it made a difference, and the opposition to Johnson and Hancock’s scheme was the biggest it has yet been. Word is getting through at last that these measures are unpopular and increasingly mistrusted. 

But I still fear that when the true cost becomes obvious next year, levels of discontent and anger could threaten our whole political system.

Target vandals – not legal protests

Behold Mr Astrophel Sang, 19, who in June twice tried to set light to the Union Flag which adorns the Cenotaph, the national shrine to our war dead.

Luckily for him the flag conformed to EU safety rules and would not catch fire. His penalty is basically nothing at all – a two-year conditional discharge plus some costs.

At the time, he was taking part in a Black Lives Matter protest against the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, in the USA. Quite why that impelled him to climb the Cenotaph, I am at a loss to say.

And his sentence contrasts sharply with that imposed on Charlie Gilmour, the Cambridge student who was sent to prison in 2011 for swinging on the Cenotaph flag.

Behold Mr Astrophel Sang, 19, who in June twice tried to set light to the Union Flag which adorns the Cenotaph, the national shrine to our war dead

Behold Mr Astrophel Sang, 19, who in June twice tried to set light to the Union Flag which adorns the Cenotaph, the national shrine to our war dead

His treatment is also very different from the handling of demonstrators against the Covid shutdown measures.

Now, there are undoubtedly some unpleasant people who attach themselves to these marches. But there are also plenty of normal, peaceable citizens. 

And I am increasingly disturbed by the aggressive, almost hostile, approach of the police to such marchers, as well as the tyrannical fines imposed on their organisers without any semblance of a trial.

I gave up protest marches decades ago, but I think the freedom to protest is vital. The dubious claim that such marches breach Covid regulations simply does not work for me.

If people turn violent, or damage memorials, the police should respond with all necessary force. But peaceful protests should be left alone, and treated with respect. 

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