Thursday, August 28, 2014

Britain's toxic elite

In something that should be news to no-one, a report has found that Britain is in the thrall of an unrepresentative elite:

Britain is "deeply elitist" because people educated at public school and Oxbridge have in effect created a "closed shop at the top", according to a government report published on Thursday.

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission said its study of the social background of those "running Britain" was the most detailed of its kind ever undertaken and showed that elitism was so embedded in Britain "that it could be called 'social engineering'".

Alan Milburn, the Labour former cabinet minister who chairs the commission, said that, as well as being unfair, this situation was unacceptable because "locking out a diversity of talents and experiences makes Britain's leading institutions less informed, less representative and, ultimately, less credible than they should be".

The statistics are dismal. Only 7% of UKanians went to public schools, but they make up 71% of senior judges, 55% of top civil servants, 53% of senior diplomats, and 45% of board chairs. Less than 1% went to Oxbridge, but graduates of these two universities make up 75% of senior judges, 59% of Cabinet Ministers, 47% of newspaper columnists, and 24% of all MPs.

This is not about talent. It is about social networks, who you know. And those within those social networks use them to advance themselves and their friends and lock others out, regardless of merit. The result is a government and a society which works in the interests of a narrow elite, while ignoring the concerns of everyone outside it. A government which talks down to people, rather than listening to them. And fundamentally, a state which is illegitimate, despite its trappings of democracy. They're not a representative democracy; they're a self-perpetuating oligarchy.

Owen Jones calls it a racket by the establishment, and he's right. As for what to do about it, he recommends investment in early childhood education, ending the charitable status of public schools (the oh-so-polite British term for "private schools for the rich"), and banning unpaid internships. But why on earth would the British elite support that?