A Government of straight, white, privately educated men

Sean O'Grady finds an absence of diversity in the 119 people now running the country

If Britain looked like its government, about four million adults would have gone to Eton, there would be no black people, and for every one woman there would be six men.

Analysis by The Independent of the social origins of members of the coalition government – the most extensive exercise of its kind – reveals that one-tenth of all the minsters in the Government attended just one public school: Eton. Overall, two-thirds of ministers were educated partly or entirely outside the mainstream state school system, and one in five went to one of the old established top public schools.

Also, in stark contrast to the reality of life outside Westminster and Whitehall, there are no black members of the British government, and only three Asians and two openly gay men. Old Wellingtonians alone outnumber the products of secondary modern and technical schools.

Three Old Etonians are in the Cabinet or attend it, around the same as could be sometimes found in Mrs Thatcher’s time, and down from the six at Harold Macmillan’s top table half a century ago or the eight in Neville Chamberlain’s cabinets before the Second World War. The OEs became extinct in the Blair-Brown era, but are back in some numbers – a dozen in government, enough for a soccer team and a sub. They form what has been likened to a Mafia-style network in important jobs in and around Westminster, not excluding Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London and fellow ex-Bullingdonian friend of Mr Cameron.

The educational background of the Liberal Democrats in government is not dramatically out of line with their Conservative counterparts, adding to suspicions that the coalition is as much a social as a political affair. Some 52 per cent of Liberal Democrat ministers went to state schools, against 35 per cent of Tories; both way lower than the 74 per cent in the last Labour Government and the 93 per cent of all pupils nationally who go to state secondary schools. Cabinet ministers Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne both went to Westminster School.

In some respects, indeed, the Liberal Democrats are even more divorced from the nation as a whole – their ministers are 100 per cent white. Despite efforts by both parties to improve the showing of ethnic minorities, the top echelons of power remain glaringly white.

While there has always been a gap between the profile of the general population and most of the professions, including politics, the unrepresentative nature of the Government may weaken its ability to stay in touch with the moods and aspirations of mainstream voters, and to force through unpopular spending cuts that will, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, hit the poorest in society hardest. It also makes its meritocratic credentials and claims that “we are all in this together” look less credible.

In particular, at a time when the Government is attempting radical reform of the state school system and has cancelled more than 700 school building projects, many may also find it odd that the education department only contains one minister who completed his entire secondary education at a mainstream state school. The Secretary of State Michael Gove (Robert Gordon’s College, Aberdeen and Oxford), plus junior ministers Lord Hill of Oareford (Highgate and Cambridge) and Sarah Teather (Leicester Grammar and Cambridge) were educated independently. The Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, experienced both worlds before going on to Durham. Only Tim Loughton, minister for children and families, went to a comprehensive before Warwick and following many of his colleagues to Cambridge. Mr Gove’s Special Adviser, Henry de Zoete, was in the year above Prince William at Ludgrove and Eton. He took a degree at Bristol. The Culture and the Northern Ireland departments’ ministers are entirely public school.

The Government’s special advisers and political appointed civil servants generally also reflect a heavy public school bias. Among the more notable aides: Ed Llewellyn (Chief of Staff to the prime minister, Eton and Oxford), Rupert Harrison (Chief of staff to George Osborne, Head Boy at Eton and Oxford), Ellie Shawcross (Economic adviser to Mr Osborne, St Paul’s and Oxford) and Poppy Mitchell-Rose (another adviser to Mr Osborne, Fettes and Durham).

Oxbridge also exercises something of a stranglehold on the top of government: about seven in 10 minsters attending Cabinet, and approaching a half overall, went to Oxford and Cambridge, with London and Bristol the only other universities putting up much of a challenge. David Cameron joins a long of predecessors who went there, but the more recent ones – Harold Wilson, Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher – were all at grammar schools.

That long tradition of the state grammar school and direct grant school as a ladder of opportunity for the less advantaged is only sparingly represented in this administration, and often by older member s such as Ken Clarke.

A second degree at London Business School is a more common phenomenon than it used to be, as is a training in accountancy.

A family link in politics also helps in the coalition: five have fathers who were MPs and two more married the daughters of Conservative cabinet misters. Three can trace their lineage back, with varying degrees of difficulty, to past prime ministers. The Chancellor, George Osborne, is the son-in-law of the Foreign Office minister Lord Howell; David Cameron is distantly related to Lord Astor, a whip. If you landed from Mars, you would conclude that Britain was a very small world indeed.

Additional research by James Burton







Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, goes back to his family's Sicilian roots in the first 'Godfather' film
film
News
Kim Kardashian speaks on the Today show about her step-father's transition
PEOPLE
Arts and Entertainment
Kermit and his doppleganger Hyalinobatrachium dianae
film
Sport
Wenger and Mourinho square-up to each other earlier this season
All the action from today's Premier League, including Everton vs Man Utd and Chelsea vs Arsenal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions