Tag Archive: Parliament

Elitism in Britain: unequal opportunities = unequal outcomes

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

In my previous post, I showed that, on the basis of their educational background (i.e. whether they attended an independent school and one of the top two universities), the UK cabinet is very much part of the Establishment or the elite of the country. In stark contrast to the German cabinet, there is an extreme concentration of people with such a background: a staggering 42.8% of the British cabinet, are doubly privileged, David Cameron and George Osborne included.

If that was not amazing enough, I would like to report some of the results of an official analysis by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission called Elitist Britain (2014).

Secondary Education and Higher Education are the foundation for elitism

Whereas 89% of pupils attend comprehensive schools, 4% go to grammar schools and a further 7% to independent schools, the latter being independent in terms of finances as well as governance. The terms independent and private school are used synonymous in the UK and basically involve significant tuition charges which only the affluent can afford.

Whereas 62% of the UK adults do not attend university, 1 in 9 attend the so-called Russel Group Universities (the leading 24 higher education institutions in the UK, including Oxford and Cambridge or Oxbridge) but only 1 in 100 attend Oxbridge or 1% of the adult population, which is a classic definition of the elite.

Britain’s elite: formed on the playing fields of independent schools

To get a feel for the influence of the independent schools, consider the following statistics: 71% of senior judges, 62% of senior armed forces officers, 55% of Permanent Secretaries, 53% of senior diplomats, 50% of members of the House of Lords, 45% of public body chairs, 44% of the Sunday Times Rich List, 43% of newspaper columnists, 36% of the Cabinet, 35% of the national rugby team, 33% of MPs, 33% of the England cricket team, 26% of BBC executives and 22% of the Shadow Cabinet attended independent schools compared with 7% of the public as a whole. This means complete domination of the most powerful and influential positions in UK society by those that attend independent schools.

Britain’s elite: finished in Oxbridge

If that provides food for thought, than the influence of the top two universities in the UK is absolutely gobsmacking: 75% of senior judges, 59% of the Cabinet, 57% of Permanent Secretaries, 50% of diplomats, 47% of newspaper columnists, 44% of public body chairs, 38% of members of the House of Lords, 33% of BBC executives, 33% of the Shadow Cabinet, 24% of MPs and 12% of the Sunday Times Rich List attended Oxbridge, compared to less than 1% of the public as a whole. The influence of Oxford and Cambridge in respect to the top positions in Britain is extremely disproportionate, to put it mildly.

Oxford, R Pinto 2015

Oxford Trinity College, © R. Pinto, 2015

 

Sectors of entrenched elitism

The preceding analysis demonstrates the extent to which privilege is entrenched in Britain and this advantage tends to cumulate over time, since is generally passed-on from generation to generation. Since Britons generally take pride in living in a meritocratic society, it is worth delving a bit deeper into some sectors to illustrate what this form of elitism means in practice:

  • Parliament: the advantages are even more entrenched than suggested at first sight by the fact that 36% of the cabinet went to independent schools and 59% went to Oxbridge. Out of the 365 Members of Parliament (MPs) 33% went to independent schools (52% of Conservatives, 41% of Liberal Democrats and 10% of Labour) and 24% went to Oxbridge (32% of Conserves, 28% of Liberal Democrats and 17% of Labour). It should be noted that the MP data refer to 2014 and thus the previous Parliament, though there is no reason to assume this has changed dramatically in the current parliamentary intake. The situation is even more extreme in the case of the House of Lords or the Upper House. Half of the Lords attended independent schools (50%), which is seven times more than the UK population as a whole and over a third (38%) of the Lords attended Oxbridge.
  • Civil Service: over half (55%) of Whitehall permanent secretaries (the most senior civil servant charged with running government a department or ministry on a day-to-day basis) attended an independent school, as did 45% of Public body chairs and 34% of Public body CEOs. Public bodies are created to provide public services such as British Rail (BR) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Unsurprisingly, more than half of the same Whitehall permanent secretaries are Oxbridge educated (57%), as are 44% of the Public body chairs and 26% of Public body CEOs.
  • Law: 71% of judges attended an independent school and a further 23% of judges attended a grammar school, which take 4% of the pupils. Thus independent/grammar schools account for a staggering 94% of all judges in Britain. Not only that, but one in seven judges (14%) went to just five independent schools: Eton, Westminster, Radley, Charterhouse and St Paul’s Boys. 75% of judges went to Oxbridge. Our judiciary is a highly self-selective group, it seems.
  • Order: the concentration in the army is almost as extreme as for judges and civil servants. Senior armed forces officers were also largely educated in independent schools (62%) and fewer than 1 in 10 (7%) went to comprehensives. But the equivalent in the police services are less concentrated; a mere 22% attended independent schools and 6% went to Oxbridge.
  • Business: Excluding those educated abroad, 41% of British-educated FTSE350 CEOs and six out of 10 of those in the Sunday Times Rich List (60%) were educated privately. Almost half of FTSE350 CEOs (43%) and over a quarter of those on the Sunday Times Rich List attended Russell Group universities (28%), of which 18% and 12% respectively attended Oxbridge.
  • Media: in terms of the other key set of people setting the agenda for the rest of the population, 54% of the Top 100 media professionals (newspaper editors, columnists and broadcasters) are drawn from independent schools and 45% attended Oxbridge. More than two in five newspaper columnists (43%) in the British press attended an independent school; and 47% graduated from Oxbridge. The situation is even more extreme if we add the independent and grammar school categories together (or 11% of the public): 89% of the Top 100 media professionals are from such schools. Looking specifically at the tabloids (a newspaper having pages half the size of those of a standard newspaper, typically popular in style and dominated by headlines, photographs and sensational stories such as The Sun, The Mirror, etc.) 38% of the columnists attended independent schools and 25% attended Oxbridge (and 49% went to a Russell Group institution). 45% of the broadsheet columnists (a newspaper with a large format regarded as more serious and less sensationalist than tabloids such as The Telegraph, The Independent and The Guardian) went to independent schools and 57% to Oxbridge. The 1% seems to have cornered the media market too.

Self-selection and group think to the fore

As I was writing this piece, I was reflecting on my long-held belief that British society is meritocratic – where the people holding power are selected on the basis of their ability. I still believe this to be the case. I do not doubt that the elite comprising the 7% or 1% is extremely well-educated or that they hold their powerful, prestigious and well-remunerated positions on the basis of their ability. But they are greatly aided by attending the top schools and facilities that money can buy and abetted by a self-selecting and entrenched Oxbridge network of their ilk. To suggest that there is equality of opportunity in Britain, but not necessarily equality of outcome is not only misleading, it is also plain wrong.

This situation may be broadly meritocratic but it is hardly the same as being fair, right or healthy for a democracy; only a small subset of the population has the resources, contacts and know-how to buy the entry ticket to an independent school (7%) which the gateway to securing a pass to one of the top two universities in the country (1%), which in turn results in access to the most influential, powerful and lucrative professions in Britain. The opportunities and the outcomes are systematically cornered, generation after generation, by the same elites.

The very fact that the report Elitist Britain (2014) was released at all demonstrates that the British Establishment is not too concerned about such information being released. Given how little it has been reported or impacted on policy-making (since they also control most of the levers), I guess they are right.

In any case, this fascinating report makes two further points worth noting. The first is that a lack of diversity in the people who are running the country is a problem in and of itself since certain professions should be representative of the public for reasons of legitimacy. This includes politicians, the media and judiciary.

Secondly, a narrow elite implies serious limits on adult social mobility and the sheer scale of the dominance of certain backgrounds raises questions about the degree to which the composition of the elite really reflects merit, as opposed to know-how combined with know-who.

These are serious concerns but the point that really caught my attention concerns the risk of “group think”:

“Where institutions rely on too narrow a range of people from too narrow a range of backgrounds with too narrow a range of experiences they risk behaving in ways and focussing on issues that are of salience only to a minority but not the majority in society. Our research shows it is entirely possible for politicians to rely on advisors to advise, civil servants to devise policy solutions and journalists to report on their actions having all studied the same courses at the same universities, having read the same books, heard the same lectures and even being taught by the same tutors.

The penny drops. I finally understand the reason why so many British politicians and journalists are so consistently and systematically (with some exceptions) pro-leaving “Europe” by which they mean the European Union (EU). Their entrenched group think has blinded them to the benefits of being part of the EU and they systematically underestimate the disadvantages of going it alone, thereby risking the country becoming an increasingly isolated Little Britain.

 

 

 


Britain has taken away my right to vote (and I want it back)

With the British General Election due on 07 May 2015, I tried to register to vote as a Brit living in Germany. Imagine my shock at discovering that not only has my right to vote been taken away from me, but I will never again be entitled to vote in any future British election. Britain has just withdrawn my fundamental democratic right without a warning or right to appeal against it.

Gobsmacked? Join the club, because so am I. In what is supposed to be one of the oldest parliamentary democracies, Parliament has withdrawn what I always believed to be one of my most fundamental rights for the rest of my life.

You are perhaps thinking that I must have done something to have lost my democratic rights. I have lost my right to vote because Parliament has determined that I have lived too long away from the UK. This is otherwise known as the “15 Year Rule” whereby British citizens automatically lose their democratic right to vote in British elections; they simply fall into the grey Zone that I now find myself in. By virtue of being in a European Union country, I am at least eligible to vote in German local, regional and European elections, but not their national elections, since I am not a German citizen. As of today, I know that I shall never again be able to vote in any election in Britain unless I return to the UK, when my rights would be restored.

So it is worth asking why is this the case? Is there something logical and reasonable about the 15 Year Rule or is it an arbitrary decision taken by Parliament which deprives people of their democratic right to vote?

The main rationale for the 15 Year Rule appears to be to limit the vote to only those who are affected by decisions made in Westminster or who have retained ties with the UK. If so, there are serious problems with this line of argument.

Is this a throwback to a long gone colonial era where people migrated to some distant land, lost complete touch with their country of origin and never returned to the UK? If so, Parliament is woefully out of touch with the world of today.

Who is to say that I am no longer affected by the decisions made by Parliament? For example, I have and continue to contribute to the UK State Pension and the decisions made by Parliament will certainly affect me until the day I die. Secondly who is to say that I have now lost my ties with the UK? My parents, my brother and my oldest and closest friends live in the UK. With globalisation, cheaper international travel and the ICT revolution, they are ever more accessible to me than ever before, even though I may not be physically in the UK. I believe I am at least as well informed and in touch with social, political and economic developments in the UK than the average voter, so why should I be penalised in this arbitrary manner? Does living across the Channel in “Europe” automatically mean that I have lost touch with Britain after a predetermined period of time? And who can decide whether the cut-off point should be 1, 5, 15, 25, 50 years or the day I die?

I do not accept at all that a 15 Year Rule or indeed any other time or other restriction should apply, especially in today´s day and age where the internet and international travel have shrunk space while increasing accessibility to almost everything. It is not only the apparently arbitrary nature of the rule that I object to; it also appears to be punitive and anti-democratic to force people like me into a grey zone where I shall never again be eligible to vote in any future British election unless I return to the UK.

The supposition that my links, connections and interests to and in the UK are somehow automatically lost after 15 years spent abroad is neither logical nor defensible. It amounts to little more than a hypothesis which cannot be proven, except at the individual level. It is equally arbitrary to automatically return all my democratic rights if and when I choose to return to the UK. I could then immediately leave again and be eligible to vote for another 15 years and keep doing the same thing over and over again. But why should I resort to doing this?

On the other hand, Article 25 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that: “Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, … without unreasonable restrictions: (a) to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; (b) to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.” The 15 Year rule would appear to be amount to an “unreasonable restriction” and thus to contravene this Covenant, which Britain has signed and ratified.

The situation becomes even more interesting when one examines the data on overseas voters. Firstly, the problem is very well-known to government (see “Voter engagement in the UK, Fourth Report of Session 2014–15“, 2014). Secondly, a mere 15,818 such overseas voters are actually registered to vote, which is remarkably few. Thirdly and most interestingly, there are actually a staggering 4.7 – 5.5 million potential overseas voters, only 1% of whom are currently registered to vote in the UK. The total number of eligible electors in 2014 was 45 million, so about 5 million amounts to potentially over 10% of the electorate. It is not known how many of the 99% are, like me, artificially debarred from voting by the 15 Year Rule, but it must be a significant number.

The current situation is an anti-democratic disgrace. The House of Commons report “Voter engagement in the UK, Fourth Report of Session 2014–15” stressed that something had to be done about overseas voters by the 2015 General Election:

“Although British citizens are only entitled to register to vote for UK elections if they were resident in the UK in the previous 15 years, it is clear that only a very small percentage of those who are likely to be eligible to register to vote are actually on the electoral register. It is not acceptable that such a small proportion of this franchise is registered to vote” (Paragraph 90)

However, it failed to make a recommendation about the 15 Year Rule itself. As far as I can see, the Government has simply ignored both issues. It is interesting to note that Germany used to have a 25 Year Rule, which was a much longer period of time than the current UK rule. However, the exclusion from the right to vote of German citizens residing outside the Member States of the Council of Europe who had departed from the Federal Republic of Germany more than 25 years previously was deleted in 2008, and with good reason.

With about 5 million votes at stake, many of which are affected by the 15 Year Rule, it is more than clear that it must be replaced by something logical, proportionate and democratic. At the very least, British citizens living in EU countries should be excluded from the 15 Year Rule. This would be a very partial improvement. The whole thing must be scrapped for all overseas voters.

Perhaps starting an ePetition after the General Election is over would be the way forward.

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