The secondary school education (age 13 to 18) of David Cameron cost £149,310. The institution he attended was, of course, Eton, known for educating the male children of the rich and powerful, including royalty. With average yearly household incomes at £27,769 and two in five children in London living below the poverty threshold, I ask the questions, why is it that only the rich elite can make it into politics and can such a parliament understand the needs of its constituents?
David Cameron is an unfortunate scapegoat in this article and I use him to exemplify the British Government as a whole. Mr Cameron is a direct descendent of King William IV, son of a senior stockbroker at a firm at which a long lineage of Cameron’s have held partnership status and a former judicial officer whose father was a hereditary baronet (similar to a knighthood, awarded by the British Crown), also educated at Eton. Wikipedia informs us that Mr Cameron and his brother were both educated at Eton, current yearly cost of £29,862 each. Wikipedia refrains from telling us where the two Cameron sisters were educated (presumably they’re inconsequential), so let’s ignore their costs and concentrate on the boys. By the time the two boys left secondary school, their family had spent on education over double the average family income in the same space of time.
Now, please don’t misunderstand my position, I value education above all else as a means to development, I’m enrolled in a masters course myself, which didn’t come cheap (but which will come out of my own pocket). What I am saying instead is that Mr Cameron was born into a position of extreme privilege and comfort and rubbed shoulders with a long established Old Boys Network, an alumni which ensured he would be noticed in his chosen profession. From there, he undertook two internships, first as a researcher for a conservative MP and second for a multinational corporation in Hong Kong (thanks Daddy!).
So, to get noticed in the political world, one could surmise that internships open doors, right? Let’s put this into perspective, David Cameron interned in London for three months, for those of us not party to the six bedroom family home in West London with land and stables and a one-bed apartment in Knightsbridge (the Cameron’s are not the example here, I made that up and am making gross assumptions), we can estimate that life in London costs around £750 per month (so says ukstudentlife.com). Multiplied by three months equals £2,250. Flights to Hong Kong, accommodation in Hong Kong, food in Hong Kong…you get the point… Alas, what a shame my college paper round didn’t quite cover all that…
Upon his return, Mr Cameron studied PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) at Oxford University, as did Ed Miliband, David Miliband, Ed Balls, Peter Mandelson, James Purnell and Ruth Kelly. Boris Johnson, Tony Blair, William Hague, John Prescott, Ann Widdecombe and Michael Portillo also attended Oxbridge…anyone recognising a pattern of identical life experiences here?
When David Cameron went to his first job interview at Conservative Party Headquarters, a telephone call from Buckingham Palace, no less, preceded him to say ‘you are about to meet a truly remarkable young man’. Wow, a conservative network making sure a conservative young man made it into the Conservative Party what a surprise and wasn’t he a lucky boy? And all he had to do was turn up! I also had a political degree when I graduated, it got me nowhere, if only my parents had been palls with the Mayor of Doncaster, maybe he could have put in some calls for me.
What about open primaries, I hear you ask. Yes, our beautifully crafted democratic system is open to ‘everyone’, we can all become an MP if we have enough support within our community right? Well, the Conservative Party spent an average of £41,550 per campaign (yes, one and a half times the average household income), per winning candidate, but it cannot recoup loss of earnings for candidates while they campaign. Thus, while repaying my £2250+ spent on internships and my average student debt of £25,000 (2010 intake) I would need to then account for loss of earnings whilst on the campaign trail.
Am I painting a clear enough picture here? You or I from working class backgrounds do not stand a chance! There are, of course, many examples to the contrary, state school and non-Oxbridge students crop up but not the norm. On the subject of education, I want to make clear that David Cameron was an apparently brilliant student, graduating with first class honours, not an easy task and I’m sure he worked hard. What I am saying, is that he never had to fight for anything. Did his whole future depend on that grade or would he have made it anyway? I’ll leave that as a rhetorical question (it’s a Pandora’s Box of structure versus agency).
Ok, let’s put education aside, I put the challenge to you to find MP’s (not just one or two, come on, challenge yourselves!) who are genuinely working class and whose Daddy didn’t buy them a pony, an Eton education, various internships, electoral candidacy…etc.
And so, I ask you, can a white, upper-middle class male, born into wealth, a lineage of investment firm partnerships and hereditary knighthoods, whose family spent double the average household income on the education of two of their four children, who was awarded his first job before he even walked through the door…breathe!…understand the needs, problems and worries of you or I? Can he understand what a young, black single mother goes through when she can’t pay bills? Yes, gender and race accompany wealth and education in this gross distortion of representation because the composition of our government does not reflect the composition of our country.
Homogeneity is institutionally inbred in our government through elitism in background, class, education and wealth, inherently inhibiting socio-economic mobility and creating a catalogue of identical experiences, stunting innovative and informed debate and policy. Our parliament is one paralysed by endogeneity, the variables, politicians who, winning smile and obligatory pregnant wife aside, are interchangeable, defining the same old elitist outcomes. Parties and politicians pretend to be different but their arguments are inherently tautological, variance of words effectively spouting the same rhetoric (think televised debate last year). I’m waiting for an outlier to enter the game, an Obama (yes, I still believe), with a variety of experiences, starting at the bottom, learning and understanding what people need, not listening blankly with a plastic smile only backstab them once inside the expenses-paid Jag (ahem Mr Brown), and understanding what it means to fight for something they truly want and in which they truly believe.
Author: Natalie Gyte
After graduating in 2006 with a BA in Politics from the University of Leicester, Natalie worked for four years in marketing, two years in traditional below-the-line marketing and two years in online marketing, heading up a research division at a search agency, mapping emerging trends in consumer search behaviour.
In 2010 she left the marketing industry to go back to politics, and is currently studying a masters degree in Comparative Politics with Research at London School of Economics and Political Science.
At the same time, Natalie has undertaken NGO work with the Westminster Foundation For Democracy, implementing evaluation methods for projects in Uganda, Mozambique, Morocco, Ukraine, Georgia and Lebanon, and work for think tank the Centre for Democracy and Independence, researching global regionalism and its effect upon employment.