Britain is run by a ruling class

It is an irony of modern politics that the more the political class proclaims its commitment to social mobility, the more exclusive it seems to become. As is widely known and repeated, the Prime Minister, the Mayor of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury were all educated at the same school, Eton (where the basic annual fees are around £32,000). To this list we can add the new head of the Downing Street Policy Unit, Jo Johnson; Cameron’s chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn; George O’borne’s chief economic adviser; the Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin; the Chief Whip and Jesse Norman MP, who was recently appointed to the new No 10 policy board.

No doubt, the top governments officials who decide the future of this country and who write up the policies the path taken by Britain, ought to be intelligent and best suited. It is also fair to say that Eton does provide extremely well educated and bright individuals (who usually go on to study in Oxford and Cambridge). On the other hand it is reassuring to know that the people who are in power have been put through the rigours of a tough and competent education system. Nevertheless there is a certain sense that the political circle is dominated by a specific group of people who do not ever closely represent the majority of the public. Representative democracy, in its broad term is supposed to be a system where a large population which consists of men and women, children and pensioners, working class and upper class, British born or foreign, etc, is represented by politicians who also come from a variety of backgrounds that ensure that different minds tackle political issues. Unfortunately this is not the case in reality. Not only is there a noticeable lack of women and ethnic minorities in parliament, there are now, as already asserted, a group of politicians who all come from similar backgrounds.

Today in Britain, social mobility is at best, stagnating and at worst, in decline, independent fee-paying schools educate just 7% of all pupils, but the government report published in May 2012 found that they account for 59% of cabinet Ministers, 35% of all MPs, 45% of senior civil servants, 15 of the 17 Supreme Court judges, 43% of barristers and 54% of leading journalists. As Alan Krueger, the labour economist and chairman of Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers observed: “Children of wealthy parents already have much more access to opportunities to succeed than children of poor families.”

The issue here is not that well educated individuals go on to hold important positions in society. The problem lies in the fact that there a lot of extremely intelligent and capable people out there with extraordinary potential to do well in life, who are not given the opportunity to do so. A 2010 study by the London School of Economics found that state school pupils were 4% more likely to get a first class or a 2.1 degree at University than their privately educated counterparts. This clearly illustrates that one does not have to be privately educated in order to do well in higher education and workplaces.

Unfortunately, as David Cameron has demonstrated by appointing his fellow Eton educated people, society currently chooses to take the easy route of hiring privately educated individuals, without giving a chance to the rest. This not only leads to wasted talent, which creates economic damage, but additionally, creates a system where one specific background pretends to represent a population with a variety of backgrounds. This potentially could lead to a gap between what the citizens want and need and what the government actually provides. After all it is not difficult to see how a wealthy politician who studied at Eton and Oxford might struggle to understand the hardship that certain families from poorer backgrounds have to go through daily.

If social mobility is to improve in Britain, an example has to be set from the top, That means the Prime Ministers have to select Ministers and advisers from a healthy variety of backgrounds, chosen on merit, rather than a piece of paper from an independent or private school.

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Categories: Global Political Insight

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