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Although it is undeniable that the Conservatives won the election and that a good percentage of the population have given them the mandate to govern the United Kingdom, we can debate whether or not the government is elitist. Over half of the new cabinet went to Oxbridge and were privately educated, while just 7% of the population they represent had the luxury of a fee-paying education. It remains a similar story in the rest of parliament, where a third of MPs went to independent schools and nearly a quarter went to Oxbridge.
I would like to point out that these are two very separate issues. There are a good number of state school students at Oxbridge (although private school students will have an advantage, as fee-paying students are up to five times more likely to get into one of the two universities than their state school counterparts) and they charge the same fees as every other University in the UK, with the same finance from the Student Loans Company. The important issue here is private education itself. The prime minister and the mayor of London alone went to Eton, with several other cabinet ministers having gone to top public schools such as St Paul’s and Charterhouse.
Some may ask why the private school domination of the cabinet is such an issue, since private schools often dominate league tables and have a good reputation for academic excellence, but this has nothing to do with the issue at hand. The bottom line is that you can only attend private schools if your family is wealthy enough to pay for your school fees, and these wealthy families prefer to mix in their own circles. Hence, most members of the cabinet always had limited contact with that majority of the population who are not so privileged, and they have never experienced some of the difficulties which many poorer families face. Therefore, it is very difficult for most of the cabinet to relate to ordinary people and understand their concerns and priorities in life – and ordinary people are the very ones feeling the strain of austerity. No wonder why politicians can’t understand the impact their policies have on people.
However, the problem is not just the fact that they went to private schools. The problem is that the wider British establishment favours private school alumni who are the most overprivileged. Of those in the cabinet who went to private school, individuals such as David Cameron, George Osborne and Jeremy Hunt come from very prestigious, upper class families who have been part of the establishment for many generations. This is not just a problem for elected politics. Outside of the government, 71% of top judges, 62% of senior military officers and a third of England national cricketers went to private school. Therefore, much of the British population resents the fact that people have access to the top jobs because of their wealth and family links. Even John Major, the last Conservative prime minister who came from a school in Brixton, expressed his shock a couple of years ago at the way every sphere of public life is dominated by privately educated elite. This is not something people should tolerate in the 21st century when such privilege became indefensible many years ago.
Therefore, if people would truly like to see a less elitist government, there are two courses of action we have to seriously consider. First is the wholesale abolition of fee-paying education in the UK. Second, we need more democratic methods of electing party leaders in order to end the private school domination of public life, including our representatives in the cabinet.