DANNY Alexander has taken an indirect swipe at the Lib-Con Coalition and his own leader, Nick Clegg, by agreeing with former Tory prime minister Sir John Major's claim that "truly shocking" Whitehall is still run by a social elite.

Sir John, who recently sparked headlines by calling for an excess profits tax on the energy giants, spoke out in a speech to Tory members in Norfolk.

He said: "In every single sphere of British influence, the upper echelons of power in 2013 are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class. To me, from my background, I find that truly shocking."

Sir John, who left a state school at 16, blamed the collapse in social mobility on Labour, arguing that it had left a "Victorian divide between stagnation and aspiration".

"I remember enough of my past to be outraged on behalf of the people abandoned when social mobility is lost. Our education system should help children out of the circumstances in which they were born, not lock them into the circumstances in which they were born."

The ex-PM said: "We need them to fly as high as their luck, their ability and their sheer hard graft can actually take them. And it isn't going to happen magically."

His remarks are likely to sting the likes of Old Etonian David Cameron and Mr Clegg, who was privately educated at Westminster School.

But Mr Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury who went to Lochaber High School in Fort William, tweeted his support for Sir John, saying: "Agree with #Major that corridors of power should reflect society. £2.5bn pupil premium helps every child get the best start #fairersociety."

Asked if David Cameron shared his predecessor's concerns about the predominance of privately educated people in public life, the Prime Minister's spokesman said: "As the Prime Minister has said what counts is not where you come from but where you are going.

"That's why we have put education reform and welfare reform at the heart of Government policy."