Tag Archive: Tony Blair

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.


Europe is a litmus test: Britain and a possible EU Referendum

As expected, a key battleground of the British General Election due on 07 May 2015 concerns whether Britain should remain in or out of European Union (EU). The position of the main political parties is now clear namely that Labour, the LibDems and the SNP are all fighting the election on the basis that they wish to remain in the EU, whereas the Conservatives are fighting on the basis that if re-elected, they wish to hold a referendum in 2017 on whether to stay in or leave the EU. The Ukip party´s position is to leave the EU as soon as possible, preferably before 2017.  The manifesto positions are summarised here.

I have written about this the possible Referendum in 2017 before (British Voters and EUroscepticsm: much ado about nothing?), namely that it does not actually rank highly in the the average British voter´s list of priorities.  When the Ipsos MORI poll of January 2015 asked British voters about their top concerns, four issues predominated: healthcare (almost half of voters), economy (one-third) followed by asylum and immigration (one-quarter) and education/schools (one-fifth). Europe/EU as an issue is on par with unemployment, which at present is very low in the UK. Indeed, less than 10% of potential voters consider it to be of importance in their list of priorities. The same post also examined the full list of British voter priorities and concluded that they had very little to do with the EU, since they the vast majority of them, with the exception of EU immigration are largely or entirely the responsibility of the British government. In other words, voting for the Conservatives in order to have a referendum resulting in leaving the EU would change precious little in relation to the state of the NHS, the economy, the education system, the housing system and much else besides. The responsibly for these rests squarely with the British government, not with the EU.

There is, in my view, little or no point to quote research and studies regarding the economic and other consequences of leaving the EU. The fact is that both sides of the debate use the assumptions that best suit the conclusions that they they wish to arrive at. Ultimately, each voter will have to weigh up the pros and cons of staying and leaving the EU. The British voter had to do so in 1975 and chose to join the EU. I shall trust them to arrive at an appropriate conclusion in 2017, should the Conservatives regain power after the General Election.

I would note, however, that the Ukip has been simplifying the pros and cons of leaving the EU and, as I have previously discussed, have made strenuous efforts to conflate the issue of migration, use of the NHS, etc. with the EU which also underplaying the consequences of leaving the EU as soon as possible. By contrast the Conservatives have understood perfectly the consequences of leaving the EU but have simply pandered to their Eurosceptical wing while at the same time seeking to stop the hemorrhage of support in their traditional voters which have, until recent months, been increasingly warming to the dubious charms of the Ukip party.

The Labour party, unlike the LibDems and the SNP, initially gave the impression of sitting on the fence on this issue but have ultimately decided to stay in the EU, while reforming the EU budget and ensuring EU migration does not lead to workers’ wages being undercut.

On 07 April 2015, a leading British political figure waded into the debate and, for a change, it was not to denounce the EU, EU immigration, benefit scroungers and all the rest of the anti-EU rhetoric that has become common place in recent British politics. The person in question has this to say about the possible EU referendum, should the Conservatives be returned to power following the General Election:

“For me Europe is an important litmus test. I believe passionately that leaving Europe would leave Britain diminished in the world, do significant damage to our economy and, less obviously but just as important to our future, would go against the very qualities that mark us out still as a great global nation. It would be a momentous decision….

A decision to exit Europe would say a lot about us [United Kingdom] and none of it good: that an adventurous country has become a timid one; that one with global ambitions has opted to be a parochial bystander; that a country known for its openness to the world shuts the open door nearest to it; that a nation which has built its history on confidence towards others defines itself by resentment to others; that, with all the challenges of the world crowding in upon us, demanding strong and clear leadership, instead of saying ‘here’s where the world should go’, we say ‘count us out’. “

At last, a notable politician has the courage to stand up and be counted in relation to the importance of the EU to the UK and vice versa. The speech by this politician has been prominently reported but alas has also been widely dismissed for the simple reason that it was said by none other than Mr Tony Blair (Europe – a very good reason to vote Labour, 07 April 2015).

This is a terrible pity. Tony Blair has gone from being the darling of the left and the person that brought about Cool Britannia to achieving political pariah status in the years since he resigned in favour of Gordon Brown. The main reason for this is that he was he was blown off course by 9/11 and committed British troops to Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. Of course, many seem to find his ability to amass a personal fortune since leaving public office galling, though it is entirely his right to do so and simply mirrors what other ex-Prime Ministers have done.

Personally, I believe that because of the so-called special relationship with the USA, almost any other British Prime Minister would have made the very same decisions that he did at the time and that, just like Margaret Thatcher before him, not only has he defined British politics since 1997 but his legacy continues to do so today.

I admire his capacity to communicate and I respect his political courage for making this speech on the UK and Europe.

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