Tag Archive: David Cameron

Elitism in Britain and Germany

© Ricardo Pinto, 2015, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU

There has been a lot of discussion about elitism, the Establishment, the 1%, etc., partly driven by the seminal work on wealth and income inequality by the French economist Thomas Piketty (see Capital in the Twenty-First Century). This has been exacerbated recently by the on-going discussion about David Cameron and his Oxford days, including allegations about some of the initiation rituals involved (see #piggate). This post examines elitism in Britain and Germany by analysing the people who make-up the Cabinets in both governments, as a means of establishing the extent to which they form part of elite or not.

First it is important to be clear what we are referring to when we talk about the elite or the Establishment, as illustrated in the box below.

Elite

1. The choice or best of anything considered collectively, as of a group or class of persons.

2. Persons of the highest class: only the elite were there.

3. A group of persons exercising the major share of authority or influence within a larger group: the power elite of a major political party.

4. Representing the most choice or select; best: an elite group of authors.

(the) Establishment

1. The existing power structure in society; the dominant groups in society and their customs or institutions; institutional authority (usually preceded by the): the Establishment believes exploring outer space is worth any tax money spent.

2. The dominant group in a field of endeavour, organisation, etc.: the literary Establishment.

Source: Dictionary.com

 

The elite is thus a small group of people who control a disproportionate amount of wealth and/or power. It is not easy to ascertain people´s wealth but there are surrogates that can be used for privilege and power. The Prime Minister and the rest of the Cabinet are generally considered to be the single most powerful group of people in any nation. Therefore, in assessing the elites and the Establishment, it makes sense to begin with this particular group of people.

In assessing the issue of whether the people concerned are part of the elite / the Establishment / the 1%, I look at two indicators for which information is relatively objective and easily available:

  • Whether they were privately/independently educated in the form of a fee paying school education or not: Britain has a well-established tradition of independent, fee paying schools. Germany too has such schools though their origins and emphasis are different. In both countries the state school system is free but some choose to educate their children privately. Since these involve significant costs compared with state schools, it is generally the privileged that tend to attend such schools. In the case of the UK, 7% of the students go to such schools compared with 6% in Germany;
  • Whether they attended the elite (two top) universities in their respective country or not: in the case of Britain, this would be Oxford University and Cambridge University, often conflated as “Oxbridge.” In the case of Germany, only a couple of universities make it into the top 50 universities in the world, namely Heidelberg’s Ruprecht-Karls-University and Munich’s Ludwig-Maximilians-University. The barriers to attending the elite universities are normally much higher than the rest but the rewards associated with graduating from the top two universities are also disproportionate (the subject of the next post).

It goes without saying that those lucky enough to have both attended a private school and graduated from the top two universities of their respective country are bound to be rewarded with disproportionately higher life-chances compared with their fellow citizen without the benefit of such privileges.

In this post, I explore the issue using official information provided by the respective governments, supplemented with research on cabinet members who are coy about their educational background. The results of the analysis for Britain and Germany are presented in the Table below.

Table 1. Educational Background of the Cabinet in the UK and Germany (2015)

Cabinet_table

Note: the private/independent schools are as easy to identify in Germany as in Britain. Furthermore, it is not always possible to match-up government ministries / departments in the two countries. Sources: www.gov.ukwww.bundesregierung.eu and Wikipedia

So what does the above table tell us about the UK and Germany, based on the educational background of their respective cabinets?

  • Independent school: 9/21 UK vs 1/16 Germany: 42.8% of the UK cabinet attended independent schools compared with only 6.2% in Germany. There is an incredibly high level of concentration in the UK, given that only 7% of the adult population attends independent schools. The German cabinet simply reflects the national trend of 6% of pupils attending such schools;
  • Top 2 universities: 13/21 UK vs 1/16 Germany: an even greater proportion (61.9%) of the UK cabinet attended Britain´s top two universities. To put this in context, only 1% of the adult population of Britain attended Oxbridge. This also contrasts with only 6.2% of the cabinet in Germany attending its top two universities. An astounding 38% of the British cabinet attended Oxford alone. If you think this is something new or specific to the Conservative party, you’d be wrong; it is merely a matter of degree. Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair are all Oxbridge educated, as were 12 of Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet. Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour party, was educated in an independent school but did not complete his higher education;
  • Independent school and top 2 universities: 9/21 UK : 0/16 Germany: whereas none of the German cabinet were privately educated and went to the country’s top two universities, a staggering 42.8% of their British counterparts did, David Cameron and George Osborne included, thus being doubly privileged.

Based on the indicators of private / independent education and/or attending Oxbridge, as well as being a member of the Cabinet, the elite or the Establishment is very much alive and in rude health in Britain. Independently educated pupils, especially those from the elite schools, disproportionately go to Oxbridge (taking 44% of the places at Oxford and 38% at Cambridge) and end-up in the Cabinet. Coincidence is not the main factor at play; layer upon layer of privilege and entitlement piled upon each other is closer to the truth.

By contrast, the German cabinet is positively plebeian. I shall leave it to the reader to determine which they prefer and why.

The recent and totally unexpected election of Jeremy Corbyn as the Leader of the Labour Party (who has not exactly grown-up in the proverbial social housing estate or attended an inner city state school) appears to be partly a reaction to the “more of the same” politics by the ruling elites. No such trend is evident in Germany.


The Queen of the Referendum: Elizabeth II in Germany

© Ricardo Pinto, 2015, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU

Queen Elizabeth II has just completed a four-day state visit to Germany, included a visit to the Bergen-Belsen prisoner of war and concentration camps (where Anne Frank wrote her famous diary and died shortly before liberation), met the President Joachim Gauk and the Chancellor Angela Merkel, and visited Berlin and Frankfurt. The German people went bananas about the state visit – it was almost as if Germany had become the 54th member of the Commonwealth!

The Royal Family is very popular among ordinary Germans despite the recent history of two World Wars. Royal marriages, divorces and births are followed closely and there is an obvious affection for the Queen. The pomp and ceremony, including the flag waving, are just not part of the culture in modern Germany, though it is noticeable that they have become a lot more at ease about waving the German flag since the football World Cup was staged in Germany in 2006. Partly because the Germans are much more buttoned-up about the whole concept of patriotism, the Royal visit was an occasion to dress up, go mad and just enjoy the state visit. English flags were still a lot more visible than German ones.

Queen Elizabeth in Germany 2015

Picture: John MacDougall/Pool Photo via Associated Press

Of course, there are strong connections between the British Royal Family and Germany, going back quite some time. But even in terms of the present, few realise that Prince Philip is a member of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg and that he was partly educated in Germany. But at the end of the day what matters is quite simply that Germans admire the Queen’s charm and sheer will-power; it is a rare sight for an 89 going 90 year-old to perform her role so competently. A rapidly ageing nation such as Germany certainly knows how to appreciate this.

The royal couple’s first visit to Germany was actually back in 1965. It was an important state occasion, involving a marathon 11 cities and it is a generally acknowledged that it helped heal the wounds of World War II. As in the case of the first visit, the fifth and quite possibly last one, also drew large, enthusiastic crowds and generated significant media coverage.

Rex

Rex

Picture: Rex

Neither Mr David Cameron nor Mrs Angela Merkel would have had one-tenth of the pulling power of the Queen, let alone one-hundredth of her influence in terms of building positive international relations between the people of Germany and the UK citizens. And, let us face it, after the on-going centrifugal forces generated by a possible Grexit, not to mention a possible Brexit, as well as the austerity drive which, rightly or wrongly, is associated with the EU and Germany, Europe can certainly do with a lot more of this sort of thing – it is a precious glue binding two nations together.

However, what has been the most significant aspect of the official state visit is actually the speech she gave, which is not normally reported (other than the Opening of Parliament Speech). The Queen’s speech was widely discussed and reported in the British media. What she said was:

“The United Kingdom has always been closely involved in its continent… Even when our main focus was elsewhere in the world, our people played a key part in Europe.”

Blink and you would have missed what all the fuss is about, not least because the crucial word uttered only contained three letters, namely the reference to the UK and “its” continent. The Queen could easily have chosen the word which would normally have been used in the sentence, namely “the” rather than “its”, but for whatever reason chose to do otherwise.

It is very easy, indeed dangerous, to over- or mis-interpret the supposed meaning of a single word. Nevertheless, given the febrile discussions in the UK about the forthcoming referendum on whether to remain or exit the EU, the Queen’s speech is being widely regarded as an indication that the Queen favours continuing UK membership of the EU.

But the greater controversy concerned the speech delivered in Berlin on Wednesday, where she warned of the “dangers” of division in Europe and the need to “guard against it”. What she said was:

“We have witnessed how quickly things can change for the better. But we know that we must work hard to maintain the benefits of the postwar world… We know that division in Europe is dangerous and that we must guard against it in the west as well as in the east of our continent.”

This part of the speech, which could be read at different levels, is what has caused consternation among Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party as well as UKIP. The main reason is that it could be interpreted as being for the EU status quo and such speeches are normally done in conjunction with government officials. In other words, the suggestion is that the Queen is uttering that which Mr Cameron shirks saying himself.

Despite the protestations emanating from Buckingham Palace and Downing Street that the Queen was not setting out a position in favour of the UK remaining in the EU, the speech resonates. The sentences chosen by the Queen made it clear that Britain is part of the European continent, that it is not a matter of “us and them”, as some would wish to portray things and that Europe (EU?) should remain united (though the Greeks appear to be doing their best to do the opposite).

The Queen is supposed to be above politics but this is clearly nonsense. After all, she opens parliament. She appoints the Prime Minister and meets with him or her on a weekly basis. Not only does the Queen have a mostly ceremonial role in the Parliament of the whole of the UK, she also has formal responsibilities within the devolved assemblies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is therefore naive to maintain that she is a neutral observer and that and the Royal Family is above politics.

Yet this is precisely what Buckingham Palace maintains and the average Brit is happy to believe, despite the recent “Black Spider” memo letters written by Charles, Prince of Wales, to the British government ministers and politicians over the years. Despite the British monarchy being supposedly politically neutral, the letters sent by Charles may be interpreted as an attempt to exert influence over British government ministers on a wide-ranging set of issues including farming, genetic modification, global warming, social deprivation, planning and architecture. If this is the case with Charles’ private letters, surely the Queen is able to influence politics, not to mention her subjects.

If she is really trying to influence British voters to vote in favour of remaining in the EU in the forthcoming referendum on the matter, I would agree fully with her instincts. But the fact remains that she would not be politically neutral and neither should Bucking Palace, Downing Street nor anyone else pretend otherwise.

Besides, this would not be the first time that the Queen has waded into referendums and possibly influenced their outcome. The most recent example of this was in September 2014. Shortly before the voting day on the Scottish referendum, the English Establishment, not least Downing Street, was panicked by the exit polls suggesting that there would be a majority in favour of Scotland becoming independent, into using every means possible to sway the vote in favour of Union.

By all accounts, the Queen was encouraged by Downing Street to speak out on the issue. Her views on the matter had been made clear in her silver jubilee address to a joint session of parliament in 1977, when she said:

“I cannot forget that I was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Perhaps this jubilee is a time to remind ourselves of the benefits which union has conferred, at home and in our international dealings, on the inhabitants of all parts of this United Kingdom.”

In the end, the plea issued by Buckingham Palace, with perfect timing, was to urge voters in Scotland to “think very carefully” about the referendum in an apparently spontaneous response to someone in the crowd. Needless-to-say, this too was widely reported by the media shortly before the vote.

Like the words “its continent,” dangers of “division in Europe” and the need to “guard against it”, small things can make a significant difference in a country where her subjects revere the Queen. It is widely assumed that the urge to “think very carefully” was sufficient to influence swing voters during the Scottish referendum, resulting in a last-minute surge in favour of retaining the Union. That said, it is far from clear that the outcome of that particular referendum in favour of of retaining the Union will be the last word on the matter, as far as the Scottish National Party and the Scottish people are concerned.

When it comes to the most profound issues facing the UK and its future, I believe that the Queen is not quite as politically impartial and Buckingham Palace would suggest. I suspect that Elizabeth II may well turn out to be, among other things, the Queen of the Referendum.


The British Question: shall we stay or shall we leave the EU?

Since joining the European Union (or EEC at the time) in 1973, the United Kingdom has had an ambivalent attitude to being a member of the European Union (EU). The British general election due in May 2015 will determine whether Britain will hold a referendum over whether to stay or leave the EU. The skirmishes over the “British Question” or “Brexit”, in other words, whether Britain is to remain a part of the EU or not started long before the General Election.

EU Red Lines for Britain Staying

When Mr Jean-Claude Juncker sought to become the President of the European Commission (EC) his election manifesto had five priorities, the first four of which were:
• Creating jobs and growth.
• A European energy Union (diversify our energy sources, and reduce the energy dependency).
• A balanced trade agreement with the USA.
• Reform of the monetary union with a greater focus on social aspects (governance in the Eurozone beyond the ECB, reform of support to Eurozone countries in financial difficulties to take into account of the social impacts and strengthen the Eurozone’s voice in the IMF).

So far so good – nothing unexpected there. However, it is Mr Jean-Claude Juncker’s fifth priority (reproduced below with the original emphasis) that was a little bit unexpected and gave rise to the title of this post.

A fifth and last priority for me as Commission President will be to give an answer to the British question. No reasonable politician can ignore the fact that, during the next five years, we will have to find solutions for the political concerns of the United Kingdom. We have to do this if we want to keep the UK within the European Union – which I would like to do as Commission President. As Commission President, I will work for a fair deal with Britain. A deal that accepts the specificities of the UK in the EU, while allowing the Eurozone to integrate further. The UK will need to understand that in the Eurozone, we need more Europe, not less. On the other hand, the other EU countries will have to accept that the UK will never participate in the euro, even if we may regret this. We have to accept that the UK will not become a member of the Schengen area. And I am also ready to accept that the UK will stay outside new EU institutions such as the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, meant to improve the fight against fraud in the EU, but clearly rejected by the House of Commons and the House of Lords. We have to respect such clear positions of the British Parliament, based on the British “opt out” Protocol. David Cameron has recently written down a number of further key demands in an article published in the Daily Telegraph. As Commission President, I will be ready to talk to him about these demands in a fair and reasonable manner. My red line in such talks would be the integrity of the single market and its four freedoms; and the possibility to have more Europe within the Eurozone to strengthen the single currency shared so far by 18 and soon by 19 Member States. But I have the impression that this is as important for Britain as it will be for the next President of the Commission.

 

This was a remarkably explicit statement from a man seeking high political office at a point in time when he was far from certain of being successful in his bid to lead the EC. This uncertainty was largely due to a high-profile initiative on the part of the British government, led by the Prime Minister himself, to ensure that Mr Juncker did not become the President of the EC. Yet Mr Juncker won resoundingly, despite colourful rumours floating around about his alleged drinking habits.

There was a steely underlying determination to recognise but not pander to UK demands: the four freedoms of movement (of capital, people, goods and services) are non-negotiable, the UK can continue to opt out, but the Eurozone will continue its march towards further integration, so as to strengthen the Euro. But it is interesting to note the absence of a broad commitment towards “an ever-closer union”, 1957 Treaty of Rome, except in the context of the Eurozone countries.

Six months into his mandate as President of the EU, Mr Juncker has underlined his views of the British Question. On the 18 January 2015, he publicly floated the idea of a British exit (or Brexit) from the EU for the first time. Mr Juncker not only compared Britain’s membership of the EU to a “doomed love affair” but also suggested that it might be time to call it a day. He rounded off his comments by warning David Cameron that he will not be “grovelling” for the UK to stay in the EU during future negotiations. What was previously a personal “red line” prior to his election to the most influential of the EU’s Presidential posts, has now become the official EU one.

British Red Lines for leaving the EU

An answer to the British Question it is due now, in the run-up to the British General Election on 05 May 2015. Britain has been largely ambivalent towards the EU, tending to focus on the economy and trade issues and, for a period of time when it suited its economy and voters, enlargement of the EU. Due to a combination of the Eurosceptic wing within the Conservative Party and the growing influence of the Ukip, should they win the election, the Conservative Party has pledged to allow the voters a referendum on whether to stay in or leave the EU unless the current terms of membership are renegotiated. There is, of course, the possibility that the Conservatives will not win but the ambivalence towards the EU is more than likely to remain. Mr Juncker’s red lines are presumably of importance, regardless of whether the Conservatives win the general election or not.

The Conservative attempts at EU reform which would satisfy its Eurosceptic wing and win back Ukip defectors included renegotiated of the terms of EU membership, such as the principle of freedom of movement of people. The explicit aim was to find an acceptable half way house between “uncontrolled” and “no” immigration.

David Cameron has stressed that he favours staying in a reformed EU but that Britain will “rule nothing out” if the changes required are not made, some of which will necessitate EU treaty changes. There are several problems with this position, which the British Government is well aware of: treaty change requires the agreement of 28 member states, all member states are highly averse to such treaty changes because of the debacle of the aborted attempt to develop a EU constitution, several countries are required to hold referendums in relation to such changes and, quite simply, there is not enough time to undertake such changes before the UK referendum is due in 2017. Apart from anything else, why should other member states do anything unless and until there is a Conservative Government in power post May 2015? The insistence on EU treaty change appears to be a lot of hot air blown by the British government, which other politicians and the EU representatives are willing to play along with. There are obviously messages to be put out to the British voter between now and the general election.

For the British is it a serious matter: asylum and immigration are among the top four issues that are likely to determine the outcome of the general election. Consequently, the PM David Cameron has set out his own (latest) version of his “red lines” most recently in November 2014:

  • Workers from the EU: ban EU nationals from claiming in-work benefits or social housing in Britain for four years. No child benefits or tax credits paid for children living outside the UK.
  • Unemployed EU migrants: deport jobless migrants if they do not get work for six months.
  • Other: veto EU enlargement unless the new country impose controls on the movement of their workers until their economies reach UK levels, restrict EU migrants bringing in family members from outside the EU, longer bans on rough sleepers, beggars and fraudsters returning to the UK and tougher rules on deporting foreign criminals.

Notice that there is no mention of EU treaty changes, change to the principle of freedom of movement or renegotiation of the current terms of EU membership. The British Red Lines are highly specific and, to my mind, do not amount to a radical change in the British position within the EU. For the British government it seems as it the British Question or whether to remain in the EU or not simply boils down to these issues.

Early skirmishes over the red lines

The British Question is already being addressed by the two most influential people, namely Mrs Angela Merkel and Mr Jean-Claude Juncker. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made the position of the German government clear. In the same way as Mr Juncker and any other leader of the other 27 EU members, in her 07 January 2015 visit to the UK she said at the joint press conference with Mr Cameron: “We have no doubt about the principle of freedom of movement being in any way questioned.” Taking his cue from those words, in a speech on 18 January 2015, Mr Juncker said: “When one mentions the end of the free circulation of workers, there can be no debate, dialogue or compromise.” Not much wiggle room for Mr Cameron there. He added that: “We can fight against abuses, but the EU won’t change the treaties to satisfy the whim of certain politicians.” No other EU nation state has questioned the freedom of movement principle. Mr Juncker also added a dimension which is rather pertinent to Britain’s economy, dominated as it is by the financial industry: “if you question the free movement of workers, Great Britain has to know that one day the free movement of capital will also be called into question.” Do I detect an attempt by the EU to outflank Britain?

The Conservative Party if left with a weak hand: despite the threat to pull out of the EU if it does not get its way; its bluff is being called. Britain is on to a loser in terms of both treaty change and/or reform of the freedom of movement principle. The British government knows it, hence the reasons for the watered down version of Mr Cameron’s red lines above.

The only chink of light for the British government is in relation to cracking down on welfare abuse by EU migrants (but many doubt the extent to which this is widespread abuse). But even here, Britain is not being handed carte blanche. The possibility of tackling EU migration abuses been conceded by the German Chancellor, whose country is holding a similar debate connected with the end of the transition arrangements for Bulgaria and Romania: “We are looking at the legal (aspect) and we are looking at legislation here … abuse needs to be fought against so that freedom of movement can prevail.” But there is a sting in the tail for Britain – Mrs Merkel added: “One has to take a very close look at the social security systems of individual member states … and to what extent they have to be adjusted. And that’s something we need to address”. It hardly amounts to a ringing endorsement of reforms that might involve EU treaty changes before a possible 2017 referendum. It sounds as if the emphasis is placed on individual nation states (Britain and Germany?) getting their own house in order in terms of their welfare benefit eligibility rules and regulations.

It is still early days in the battle of the red lines over the British Question, though some of the early skirmishes have already been decisive. The latest British position appears to be mainly designed for domestic consumption in the run up to the General Election. However, the red lines are of importance, so I plan to address them in future posts.

Ricardo Pinto, 21 January 2015, www.AngloDeutsch.eu