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The BBC's Nicholas Jones
"Robin Cook is the latest minister to join the attack on the elitism of Oxford and Cambridge"
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Saturday, 27 May, 2000, 08:07 GMT 09:07 UK
Cook attacks Whitehall 'elitism'
Ministry of Defence in Whitehall
Cook wants ministries to recruit on ability alone
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has stepped up the government's attack on elitism by criticising Whitehall recruitment - including appointments in his own department.

Mr Cook told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the civil and diplomatic services should look beyond Oxbridge graduates and former public school pupils when filling top jobs.

Earlier this week, Magdelen College, Oxford, was accused by the government of elitism after rejecting a comprehensive school pupil who went on to win a scholarship to Harvard, in the US.

Chancellor Gordon Brown attacked the rejection of would-be medical student Laura Spence as an "absolute scandal", and queried the fairness of admissions procedures at the universities.

We want to have a government for the many not the few - run by the people who represent the many

Robin Cook

Mr Cook said he agreed "absolutely" with Mr Brown's statement and pledged to ensure recruitment at the Foreign Office would be unshackled from traditional elitism.

"I want our Foreign Office to represent the modern Britain today," he said.

"I need people of talent, ability, from different communities, of all regions of modern Britain.

"People should be able to get on on the basis of merit, on the basis of drive, on the basis of effort - not the basis of which school they went to, and that's what we're determined to change.

He said it was important to achieve a government that is "serviced by people who represent the people out there in the country".

"We want to have a government for the many not the few - run by the people who represent the many," he said.

Laura Spence
Laura Spence: Oxford said no, Harvard said yes
The Tories accused Labour of stirring "class war" with the aim of distracting attention from the government's record on pensions and the NHS.

The cabinet is "worried because of the progress William Hague has been making on issues such as law and order and pensioners," shadow Social Security Secretary David Willetts said.

On Saturday Mr Cook highlighted the large Oxbridge presence among senior officials at the Treasury, and within his own Foreign Office, where last year 44% of those recruited to the "policy entry" - the fast-track high-fliers destined to advise ministers - were Oxbridge graduates.

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26 May 00 | Education
Leak fuels Oxford admissions row
26 May 00 | UK Politics
Labour's 'class war' over Oxbridge
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