Archives for May 2010

Welcome to the Post-Meritocratic Age

Andrew Neil | 09:33 UK time, Monday, 10 May 2010


cleggcameron.jpgWe still don't know the nature of the government that will rule over us but we have a fair idea of the nature of the Parliament that will supposedly hold it to account -- and it's a cut above most of us.

Overall almost 4 out of 10 of the new Commons went to private school, though fewer than one in 10 of the population are schooled outside the state system. This continues a trend which has seen the Commons get steadily more exclusive throughout the 21st century (reversing the trend which made it less exclusive in the latter part of the 20th century): in 1997, 30% of MPs went to private school, in 2005 it rose to 34% and now it is 37%. The changing composition of the Commons has become a visual symbol of the decline of social mobility.

The increase in the number of MPs from private schools is a result of the increase in Tory MPs. David Cameron might have been anxious to improve the ethnic and gender diversity of his troops but he has done nothing to widen its social class base: over 1 in 2 Tory MPs (54%) went to private schools. Indeed 20 Tory MPs didn't just go to private schools, they went to the same one -- yes, that would be Mr Cameron's went to, Eton.

The Lib Dems are pretty posh too: 4 out of 10 of their MPs also went to private schools. And even the Labour intake is over twice the national average (at 15%).

Thus has come to an end the great post-war meritocratic social revolution (indeed it is now in reversal) which saw state school children move into so many positions of power previously reserved for the privileged. For example, between 1964 and 1997, under Labour and Tory governments, not one Prime Minister went to a private school.

Now we have two private school boys who went to Oxbridge (Messrs Clegg and Cameron) negotiating the future shape of our country behind closed doors while a non-Oxbridge grammar schoolboy (Gordon Brown) is merely an observer. Hard to think of a more poignant visual symbol of the end of the grammar school dominance of British politics than that. So much for education, education, education. As we discussed during the Daily Politics election debate on education, the gap between state and private education has never been wider in Britain (see the OECD study and recent A-level results).

Welcome to the Post-Meritocratic Age.

Let's just do one election at a time

Andrew Neil | 09:56 UK time, Monday, 3 May 2010


leaders.jpgViewers of the Daily Politics and readers of this blog will not be surprised by the headlines in today's papers that David Cameron would forego any deal with the Lib Dems and run a minority government -- should the Tories emerge on May 6th as the largest party but without an overall majority. We've been saying that for a couple of weeks now.

It's hardly academic, however, since all the polls are still firmly in hung parliament territory. Mr Cameron came out of last Thursday's debate and into the weekend with what I've called Wee Mo -- a little momentum which, if it had continued, could have put him into overall majority territory. But Wee Mo has petered out and the Tory leader has a mountain to climb in the final three days to push his support up into the late thirties that gives him that overall majority. At the moment a hung parliament with Tories the largest party is still the most likely outcome.

Things are also pretty daunting for Labour and the Lib Dems. Gordon Brown, whose resilience cannot be doubted, is still struggling to avoid coming a humiliating third: there is still probably a 50:50 chance that he will come third. Labour leaders I meet are already thinking of life after Brown and in opposition.

By the end of last week I would have put the odds higher -- but the Lib Dem bounce has lost some of its energy and Nick Clegg is struggling to hold on to the gains that first leaders' debate gave him. Mr Clegg says this is now a two-horse race between the Lib Dems and the Tories, but his party is unlikely to beat the Tories in share of the national vote and certainly will not end up with more seats than the Tories. At the moment the best he can hope for is to get as close to 100 seats as he can and beat Labour into third place in share of the vote, which would be a powerful symbolism.

Of course Labour and the Lib Dems could still form some kind of post-election pact to govern after the election and constitutionally Mr Brown is entitled to try to form one, even if he comes third in votes. But if the Lib Dems really are ruling out dealing with Mr Brown (and I think they still are but I confess to some confusion) then that would be the end of the matter. Labour and the Lib Dems then can't just hand the leadership over to somebody else to try. If Mr Brown reports to the Queen that he is unable to form a government then constitutionally she then has to invite the leader of the largest party (in this case the Tories) to make the attempt.

Some reality is beginning to dawn on the Lib Dems. If Mr Cameron does emerge with the most seats and forms a minority government then the election of 2010 will not be quite the game-changer the Lib Dems have supposed -- because Mr Cameron will not agree to a change in the voting system. How a minority Tory government would fare -- or how long it would last -- is another matter. The Lib Dems could soon be having another bite at the cherry. But let's just do one election at a time.

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