WHY is it that the privileged and powerful react so badly when they think their dominant position could be under threat? Take the privately educated. The parents of some kids at independent schools are apparently up in arms about the growing number of state-school children winning places at Oxford and Cambridge, with many fearing their own offspring will miss out as a result.

Thanks to the growing use of contextualised data in the admissions process, the proportion of state-school kids taking up places at Oxford rose from 57 per cent to 58% between 2013 and 2017 while at Cambridge the figure rose from 61% to 64%. It has hardly been a seismic change, particularly given that 93% of UK children are educated by the state. But anything that takes account of the fact that three Bs from a socially disadvantaged child who cares for a sick parent might be worth the same as three As from a wealthy child whose parents invested in ongoing tuition has got to be a positive step on the road to social equality.

Or so you would think. The problem is that some private-school parents, who have paid through the nose to ensure their child can tap into the type of privilege an Oxbridge education invariably brings, have cried foul, blaming social engineering on behalf of those further down the hierarchy of power for their own child missing out.

There is a clear irony in the idea that social engineering could be working against any student educated at an Oxbridge feeder school, when school ties rather than academic achievement have often been enough to secure places in the past. Even the chair of the Independent Schools Council admitted as much when he noted that “independent schools report that their marginal candidates no longer tend to get into Cambridge but their good candidates are as successful as ever”. Heaven forbid that those bright enough, if not rich enough, might be successful too.

Such attitudes are nothing new, with members of dominant groups regularly playing the discrimination card when they feel minorities are encroaching on their patch. Back in 2015 Jonathan Sumption, then a Supreme Court judge who got his own break in law thanks to the intervention of a family friend, huffed that measures to improve the woeful lack of gender diversity in the judiciary “could have appalling consequences for justice” because they might “make male candidates feel that the cards are stacked against them”. Similarly, the BBC faced accusations of discriminating against whites when, in 2018, it sought to make its newsroom more representative of the population it serves by making a traineeship open to black, Asian or non-white ethnic minority applicants only.

While those making such arguments say they fear that bright-enough rich kids and talented-enough white men will lose out to less-bright poor kids or less-talented minorities, what they really fear is that long-established power imbalances may be tipping out of their favour. For them, the prospect of equality is a scary one.

It needn’t be. Just as no privately educated student smart enough to study at Oxbridge has anything to fear from a state-educated pupil who is smart enough too, no man cut out for high office needs be afraid of missing out to a woman who has also got what it takes. That’s the beauty of equality: it would make room for everyone deserving of a place.

The problem with the knee-jerk reactions of those who fear losing out, those who cry discrimination from their established positions of power, is that it can have very real consequences for those who are already being discriminated against because the balance of power remains so unequal.

Take Glasgow. Last week the city council’s licensing committee threw out an application for a female-only taxi business on the basis that it would discriminate against men. Though the vast majority of taxis in the city are driven by men, a reality that some women find intimidatory, the council baulked at the idea of female passengers being able to choose only female drivers and female drivers being matched only with female fares.

Committee convenor Alex Wilson, the SNP member for Cardonald, opposed the plan on the basis that “the whole not picking up male passengers is a concern to me” while, in a rare show of unity across the political divide, Conservative member Robert Connolly said the idea of a service run by women for women “is essentially sexism towards males”.

Their words shame them. Sexism, just like any other form of discrimination, works because one party - men - has more power than another - women. Some men choose to wield that power through sex attacks and violence, and it is not discriminatory for women to want to protect themselves from that.

Sure it would be a pain for a man to have to wait a few minutes to catch a ride home, just like it would be galling for an Oxford-bound student to have to settle for Bristol University instead. But unless and until we live in a world where all things are equal, they’re really not in a position to complain.