Have you ever tried to explain the British political system to an American? I tried to do that today. We were discussing the upcoming elections in both Britain and the USA, where we would be choosing our new parliament in May this year while they would be choosing their new President in 2016. The biggest difference between are two systems, is that in Britain we don't CHOOSE our prime minister, or our government. We only choose our Member of Parliament. But do we?
Before we answer that question, I want to ask another, related question. Why is this election looking to be so different than previous ones, with neither Labour nor Conservative parties being able to make significant gains from the last election, despite the expected collapse of the Lib Dem vote? The answer takes us back to the first question; it is because we don't really choose our members of parliament in a true, representative fashion. And it is damaging not only the political parties but also British politics as a whole.
When I go campaigning as a member of the Conservative party, most people at the door say to me "ahhh politicians, they're all the same!" When I ask why they think this, the answer is usually "well, they're all rich already! They all went to posh schools, they all had lots of money already. They don't understand what it is like for the rest of us". That to me, is interesting. It's not that they think all MPs are liars, or cheats or corrupt. It's that they are not able to recognise or associate with the challenges of the majority of the population.
And I think that's a fair point. In this parliament, despite a long, downward trend over the last twenty years, the number of public school MPs has risen, with a huge 20 of them from Eton alone. That's five more MPs than the previous Parliament. Twenty MPs from one school. I want you to think about how truly representative that is. In this parliament, 40% of MPs went to a comprehensive school, compared to the 88% of the UK population (I'm proud to say, I was a comprehensive school boy!). 25% of MPs were educated at Oxbridge universities, while only 1% of the UK population shares that privilege. The electorate are right, our politics is unrepresentative and therefore, undemocratic.
The House of Lords is even more terrifying; 50% of its members are educated privately and of the remainder only 12% went to a comprehensive school. Three in five Lords come from 24 universities.
In the current government, five went to Cambridge, and nine went to Oxford. That means 64% of the cabinet went to two universities. Much has been made of those who studied PPE at Oxford, including David Cameron, William Hague, Chris Huhne (now out of course), Jeremy Hunt, and Philip Hammond all studied PPE at Oxford (along with 30 others MPs, including Ed Balls and Ed Milliband). PPE is only studied at Oxford with about 200 grads a year.
It would appear that our parliament, our government our electoral system is not representative. And therefore, it simply cannot be democratic. Political parties are choosing people similar to themselves to be candidates, opening doors to the most elite circles in British society to those already amongst the elite.
While political parties must take action to change this, to be more representative, so we the people of Britain must take action to find those among us, who went to comprehensive schools, who went to former polytechnic universities, to get involved with politics and put themselves forward for election. There's no point moaning we aren't represented, we have to be willing to make the commitment ourselves.