Friday, 26 September 2014

The PPElite

Andrew Gimson says that the Westminster elite is not elitist enough. One point he makes, in his rather rambling piece, is that the Westminster elite suffers from conformism.

Here's one diagnosis of the problem. "If graduates from an architecture school designed buildings that were unfit for human habitation or doctors from a university’s medical faculty left death in their wake, their teachers would worry. The graduates of Oxford’s Politics, Philosophy and Economics course form the largest single component of the most despised generation of politicians since the Great Reform Act. Yet their old university does not show a twinge of concern."

So writes Nick Cohen in the Spectator.

Did you know that "There are more PPE graduates in the Commons than Old Etonians (35 to 20)"? Cohen goes on "Remember I am not talking about Oxbridge-educated politicians, who make up 50 per cent of ministers and 28 per cent of MPs, but the graduates of just one Oxford course."

That made me think - just 35 PPEists. Not a large number in absolute terms, but they include David Cameron, William Hague, Theresa May, Jeremy Hunt, Ed Davey, Danny Alexander, Matthew Hancock, Ed Miliband, David Miliband (I know he's not an MP), Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper, Angela Eagle, Maria Eagle and Rachel Reeves. That's a pretty successful set of politicians - proportionally much more so than old Etonian politicians. Moreover, it's not an un-meritocratic set: Hague went to a comprehensive, May to a grammar school, Alexander to a comprehensive, the Milibands to a comprehensive, Cooper to a comprehensive, the Eagles to a comprehensive and Reeves (who was the UK Under-14 girls Chess champion) to a school which is now an academy. (Did you know that Ed Davey went to Nottingham High School, as did Kenneth Clarke, Geoff Hoon and Ed Balls? The Eton of the Midlands?) 

Cohen has some vague thoughts about how reading PPE encourages glib superficial knowledge and an essay crisis approach to life. At this point, it is worth noting that Cohen read PPE (he was at Hertford) and is a journalist. I suspect he is writing about himself more than about Ed Balls or William Hague. 

Is there a problem? Do we have a narrow group, not in demographic terms perhaps, but in terms of their cast of thought and experience of life running the country? 

Well maybe. But I say that the country should be grateful for being run by people who got into (perhaps) the most competitive course at (perhaps) the best university in the country. More likely the problem is that we only have 35 PPEists at the top - once there are good two or three hundred then the Westminster elite will be truly elite. 

At any rate, before you think that changing to Boris Johnson, a classicist, will help matters consider that only 14% of PPE applicants get in, while 42% of classics do. 

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