Will Britain ever see a Black Prime Minister? The probability model

Dr Faiza Shaheen, Director of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies explains the how she calculated the chances of a black person born today becoming Prime Minister.

We built a statistical model that calculates the odds of a Black person born today becoming the Prime Minister in the UK. We defined ‘Black’ as Black African, Black Caribbean, Other Black, Black African Mixed, Black Caribbean Mixed, or Black Other Mixed. To consider wider issues of social mobility, class and race, we also calculated probabilities of White (state educated) and rich White children (who go to private school) becoming PM.

Key assumptions:
1. There are three key routes to becoming Prime Minister:

(a) ‘Golden’ route: Three quarters of all our Prime Ministers went to Oxford or Cambridge universities, including both David Cameron and Theresa May. As such we paid most attention to probabilities of the three groups jumping the following hurdles: doing A Levels, achieving top grades (AAA+), getting admission to Oxford or Cambridge universities, getting a top job in a relevant profession, joining a political party, selected and then elected as MP, becoming leader of either Labour or Conservative political parties and finally elected as PM.

(b) ‘Russell group’ route: Of all of our Prime Ministers who did go to university only four didn’t go to Oxbridge. We calculated the odds of Black children, White children and rich White children achieving good grades, getting into a Russell Group university, getting a top job in a relevant profession, joining a political party, being selected and then elected as MP, and being elected PM.

(c) The ‘alternative’ route: We have only had five Prime Ministers in the history of the UK who weren’t university educated. Four of the Black and Black mixed raced MPs from the past 30 years did not attend top universities, but all did go to university. Of the 2015 new MP intake from England, less than 5 per cent had not gone to university. However, in an effort to account for ‘wildcard’ route, encapsulated by John Major or Jeremy Corbyn, we did are very short and simple calculation. The odds of taking this route are very small given that many more young people now attend university.

2. We calculated on the basis of ‘a Black child born this year’, using current existing odds. Thus, these are the odds of a Black PM if the current situation continues, i.e. we assume no improvement in A Level grades, entrance rate to Oxbridge etc.

3. We assume a PM can only be either from the Labour or Conservative parties. We recognise that this is problematic given boundary changes and Labour’s decline in Scotland, but they would likely be a majority in any coalition and are far more likely to provide future Prime Ministers.

Please note: The model calculates the odds of a Black child etc. jumping each hurdle to PM as a percentage of all Black children, White state and White private in any one year. Thus, varying population sizes are built in to the model. However, we do recognise that the pool of Black candidates that will be able to viably stand and become MP is relatively small compared to other groups, both because of a smaller population and a relatively limited number of places a Black candidate could conceivably win. We make an adjustment for this figure in our model by using the 2015 figure for the total number of Black candidates that stood – the most the UK has ever had.

We appreciate that there is likely to be a high degree of path dependency after a certain point, i.e. if you do go to Oxbridge and join a political party you a more likely than others to want to become an MP. We try to account for this by looking at past figures, however this wasn’t always possible due to missing data and time constraints.

A break down of calculations and findings

Undertaking A-levels

Why did we measure this?

Not all children undertake A-Levels. In fact roughly 60% take this route and are entered for the exam. It’s also a proxy measure for poverty as those who are poorer have less A Levels.

What do the results tell us?

Actually, as a proportion Black children are more likely to do A Levels and stay in education. They are under-represented in apprenticeships, apart from in London. Children on free school meals least likely to do A Levels.

Methods of Calculation (short)

Department of Education figures

A-level grades AAA+ and Russell Group ABB+ (not AAA+)

Why did we measure this?

Key criteria for being able to gain place at Oxbridge

What do the results tell us?

Black children are significantly less likely to gain top grades.

It is worth noting that the biggest difference is not between a Black child and the non-rich White child, but between these groups and those that attend private school. Those who attend private school make up 30% of those who get AAA+ yet only 7% of young people are educated in private school.

Methods of calculation (short)

Department of Education figures

Get in to Oxbridge and getting in to Russell Group (excluding Oxbridge)

Why did we measure this?

Given the heightened concern about the number of Black students at Oxbridge, we wanted to take a look at the raw figures on entrance and the success rate per application.

What do the results tell us?

The rate at which Black or Black mixed raced students are accepted to Oxbridge is consistently lower.

Huge improvements for the wider Russell Group, and higher likelihood in total (Undertaking A-Levels and getting in to Russell Group) for Black vs White state school.

Again, the biggest difference is not between those of different ethnicities, but between those in private school and everyone else. The hurdles for this group are notably lower.

Jumping over the huddles to this point is much more difficult than getting a relevant and professional job or joining a political party which is essentially about life choices once you have a good undergraduate degree.

****The first 18 years are crucial to putting yourself on route to PM****

Methods of calc (short)

Raw statistics from Oxford and Cambridge universities

Job in relevant profession

Why did we measure this?

Most MPs have worked in the public sector, think tanks/ NGOs, banking, the media, or law.

What do the results tell us?

While there is significant discrimination in the labour market for minority ethnic groups we assume very little for those that go to Oxbridge because of the high employment rate among those that attend these universities.

For those that attend Russell Group universities we do assume discrimination. One study found Black Caribbean graduates had the lowest rate of professional employment six months after graduation, of 55.4 per cent. This was 9.3 percentage points lower than the highest rate of 64.7 percent, observed among White graduates. Forty months after leaving Higher Education, the difference between the highest and lowest professional employment rates had widened to 13.2 percentage points. Black African graduates had the lowest rate at this stage of graduates’ early careers (65.9 percent) compared to 78.7 percent for White graduates.

Methods of calculation (short)

Graduate destination surveys from Oxford and Cambridge universities/ Russell Group.

HEFCE study on discrimination

Joins a political party

Why did we measure this?

Political participation

What do the results tell us?

Political participation is particularly low among those from Black and minority backgrounds. Even in the Labour party only approx. 1 percent are Black. This narrows the pool from which candidates can be chosen.

Methods of calculation (short)

Membership figures in Labour and Conservative parties (did not use others as extremely unlikely PM will come from elsewhere)

Selected and then wins election as MP (based on most recent intake)

What do the results tell us?

Black and Black mixed-race are underrepresented in parliament. HOWEVER, at the last election 28 Black candidates ran in total, 13 of which won. Also, as many parties are keen to have more diversity we assume a high probability that you will be pushed forward if you’re Black and want to become an MP.

As such we assume a higher likelihood of success than if you are White. We do this to keep the model on the optimistic end of the calculation.

Methods of calculation (short)

Using figures on existing MPs, focusing on the 2015 intake as well as the diversity of the candidates that ran in 2015.

Becomes member of cabinet/ shadow cabinet

Why did we measure this?

Proxy to demonstrate that an MP wants to become leader of the party.

What do the results tell us?

Higher likelihood of Black MPs becoming (Shadow) Cabinet minister.
Also higher if Oxbridge compared to Russell Group or non-university.

Methods of calculation (short)

MP background of all Cabinets since John Major.
Number of Black MPs that have ever become (Shadow) Minister.

Becomes leader of the party

Why did we measure this?

It is the next step in the process.

What do the results tell us?

We take the best odds there has ever been – Umunna running as Labour leader in 2015.

Note: Both cabinet and leader figures have been hugely affected since Corbyn’s leadership and to a less degree by May’s new cabinet.

Methods of calculation (short)

This is tricky because it has never been done. We use the betting odds that Paddy Power have published.

Becomes PM

Why did we measure this?

It is the final step to take.

What do the results tell us?

At this point assume equal odds if Oxbridge, less if Russell Group and non-university.

Methods of calculation (short)

Outcomes of elections since John Major.

FINAL PROBABILITY

Methods of calculation (short)

Probabilities were multiplied to get the final figure.

SNP MPs are more socio-economically mixed but we don’t include SNP in our figures because we assume no future PM will be from this party.

Dr Faiza Shaheen, Director of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies