We’ve heard it all before… Politicians are out of touch, they don’t understand the working man and they live in a ‘Westminster bubble’; but what defines normality in British politics? Does attending a state school and having retail experience equate to a typical upbringing, or is an Oxbridge education mandatory to govern the nation?
CrowdH UK explores the background of ministers in Theresa May’s Brexit cabinet, and how much the prime minister’s pledge to “create a fairer society” is reflected in her government. Are we on the road away from elitist Etonianism, or is May’s ministry a mere sheen sheltering the privileged from the working masses?
Theresa May- Prime Minister
Background: Prime Minister Theresa May attended a mix of private and state schools during her upbringing as the daughter of a vicar. Before attending Oxford University to study geography, obtaining a 2:1 degree in the process. Upon graduation, she worked at the Bank of England as a financial consultant and as an international affairs adviser, whilst simultaneously serving as a councilor in London. Her political career has strengthened after being elected as the MP for Maidenhead in 1997.
Our verdict: A middle-class upbringing may have sheltered her from the vestiges of poverty, and her curriculum vitae is grounded in the skilled world away from poverty and strife. She is as privilege as you can get in the “squeezed middle”, but her merits have kept her afloat, and we commend her for that.
Philip Hammond- Chancellor off the Exchequer.
Background: Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond also had experienced a middle class upbringing as a son of a civil engineer, attending a state school before studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics. Hammond had spend a considerable about of time in the private sector, including stints as a director of a medical equipment company and as a consultant for the World Bank.
Our verdict: Similar to Theresa May, Hammond has a comfortable, but otherwise normal upbringing in Essex in the middle class. He has clearly taken advantage of the meritocracy available in the United Kingdom to advance himself to the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer, firming placing him in the position of normality rather than one of any particular privilege.
Untypical upbringings, privileged career paths?
Amber Rudd- Home Secretary
Background: Rudd has had a very unconventional upbringing, and one that was by no means under the definition of ‘normal’. As a daughter of a wealthy stockbroker, Rudd attended independent schools in Gloucestershire and in London before joining JP Morgan, pursuing a career in investment banking. The jump from independent education, to banking, then onto politics was sealed through being elected as the Member of Parliament for Hastings and Rye in 2005.
Our verdict: Oh dear. When we ask how normal Theresa May’s cabinet is, we have hit a bit of a snag. David Cameron’s administration was plagued by accusations of elitism and the poor progress of social mobility within the political sphere. Is Amber Rudd’s appointment as Home Secretary compatible with May’s pledge for a “fairer society that works for everyone”? Probably not.
Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary
Background: The illustrious Boris Johnson has cemented his place in British political folklore as a buffoon-esque but likable cabinet member. Unfortunately, Johnson does not quite bit the mould for a fairer society; nor for any conventionality. An Ashdown House- Eton-Oxford education was followed by a position at The Times, acquired through family connections, before venturing into politics.
Our verdict: Although highly educated, Boris Johnson, just like Amber Rudd, largely relies on his personal popularity to hold key positions in the Conservative cabinet. He has come from a background of privilege, but it might have been perfectly possible for him to progress through the political ranks just through his charm rather than an anti-meritocratic avenue.
Jeremy Hunt- Foreign Secretary
Background: Jeremy Hunt has born to a knighted navy admiral, and is a distant relative of Elizabeth II. Privately educated, Hunt studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University before jumping straight into management consultancy. He did however spend time as an English teacher in Japan, and attempted unsuccessfully to import marmalade into the country during a failed business venture. After forming a public relations company, he worked in the private sector before entering politics in 2005 as a member of parliament for South West Surrey.
Our verdict: Despite his privileged credentials, Jeremy Hunt’s curriculum vitae has fit the bill in pursuing career goals based purely on his own initiative. Taking a route as an English teacher in Japan is not that far from what many TEFL students take regardless of their background. Moreover, his failed exotic business plans denote a degree of struggle in adulthood, meaning that his path to parliamentary politics was slightly jagged at best.
It’s fairly clear to see that efforts have been made to diversify, and to some extent, detoxify the Conservative Party since the end of the Cameron ministry. The vestiges of power and privilege are still there, but to compete against a very left wing Labour opposition with Jeremy Corbyn at the helm whilst holding onto Boris Johnson and Amber Rudd remains a sticking point for the Tories.
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