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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.


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