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Parliamentary representation and practice

Despite having an elected Parliament, the members are not truly representative of the bulk of the public. Over one third of MPs in 2010 had come from fee-paying schools compared with ~10 per cent of the general population, and some 20 were from just one school, Eton. In some respects, this is not surprising, as Eton has both an excellent academic tradition and a very strong sense of meritocracy driven by both pupils and staff. Such attitudes and selection of ability are unachievable in the majority of schools across the country. Additionally, around 90 per cent of MPs attended university, compared with ~10 per cent of their age group. However, rather than being representative of the diverse range of training across a swathe of universities, the statistics record that (at the time of writing) of the 55 prime ministers since 1721, no fewer than 41 had attended Oxford or Cambridge.

Government is thus dominated by a section of the population that may never have worked outside politics, has no experience in the ‘real’ world, and has been taught by the same tutors, who similarly may have no practical experience outside academia. The same group inevitably select party candidates and cabinet members from those they are comfortable with. The unfortunate conclusion is that the country survives with a highly self-selective process that does not benefit from the far greater diversity of opinion and background of the nation that is being governed. Equally, the government is unable to closely relate to the needs and attitudes of the majority of the population.

This is information and knowledge rejection on a scale that relates directly to the entire nation. Further, it is a criticism that is not limited to the UK.

Similar types of criticism can be levelled at the governments of most countries, even if the leaders are elected, rather than being hereditary, or imposed by military or dictatorships. For example, the USA has a system whereby the potential presidents are selected by the major parties as a results of state voting, after there has been intense canvassing and self-promotion. The cost of the campaigns is immense, and only those with a very considerable wealth have a realistic chance of having enough media coverage to attract a following. Public records offer approximate numbers for the personal wealth of the candidates, and the additional support money they attract.

Looking at the data, it is not unusual to find that the survivors in the campaigns are multimillionaires or even billionaires. Such levels of wealth may variously have been inherited or the result of major business activities. This may well reveal an aggressive and forceful personality, but it definitely indicates that they are highly unlikely to recognize the living conditions of the majority of the nation. The other problem is that characteristics needed for the campaign trail are not an automatic guarantee that they will be matched by the statesmanship needed to lead the country. A further negative feature of this selection process is that it greatly reduces the possibility of having female or ethnic minority candidates.

It is easy to be critical, but finding better routes to select leaders and governments, and actually implementing them, is a considerable challenge in any relatively democratic system.

 
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