The problem of Etonians

The public’s approval of politicians is at an all-time low. Most people think that the elected representatives of all parties are simply self-serving and money grabbing, mainly interested in looking after their own narrow band of supporters while cramming as much corporate funding and expensive claims into their pockets as possible.

The Tories are especially singled out as being the party of vested interests, of making life easy for the wealthy while cutting benefits. Symbolic of this is the number of Etonians in the cabinet and on Cameron’s personal staff. Recently Michael Gove has labeled the number of Etonians in Cameron’s inner circle as ‘ridiculous’. However the problem is more widespread than this, 45% of all MPs are privately educated compared to 7% of the population. This is true of the opposition as well as the government. Labour has made great strides in women and minority representation but there is still a problem of the over representation of MPs from wealthy backgrounds with private educations. All parties are as bad as each other in this regard.

The country should not be run by a private school educated elite. Our government cannot be made up of MPs out of touch with the problems faced by most people. Problems like trying to buy healthy food for a family on a tight budget. Problems like trying to give your child the best start in life when state school is the only option. Increasingly, people have the problem of having choose between food and heating. As a country, we will struggle to deal with these important problems if none of our leaders have any experience of them.

It is no wonder that the current government wants to stop benefits for the under 25s. When they were young, their parents lived in houses with spare rooms for unemployed children to stay in between jobs. It honestly has not occurred to the members of cabinet that some parents cannot financially support their children up to the age of 25. It probably has not occurred to them that a 24 year old can have a family and a career, be made unemployed, lose their house and then be forced to move their entire family in with their parents. These are not circumstances that occur to the children of the wealthy, so it is no wonder a government of such people has not taken this into consideration.

The political principals of all leading parties are guided by the ideology of the wealthy. Their creed is competition, self-reliance, hard work brings rewards – but these too only benefit the wealthy. Competition seems like a good idea when your children begin with a head start in the race. Self-reliance is fine if your expensive private education allows you walk into any job of your choosing. And whilst hard work may well bring rewards for them, to most politicians the hard work of an office cleaner is not worth a living wage.

Poor people have to play by the same rules as the wealthy and they lose out. When they vote for someone else, the guiding principle behind our economy do not change. Meanwhile the rich get richer, the gap between rich and poor widens, class mobility decreases and safety net which most poor people rely on is being dismantled.

There are currently more working people in the UK claiming benefits than non-working. This is because wages have stayed low while food, heating and rent bills have soared. Still the government is cutting from the welfare bill. Wealthy MPs with private education have little need of the safety net benefits offer so they view it as unnecessary expenditure. If there were more MPs for poorer backgrounds then the benefits poor families rely on might not be under such threat.

Related to this problem is the fact that too many politicians have only ever worked in the Westminster bubble. There is a dire lack of MPs who are former teachers, nurses, police officers, office workers and shopkeepers. Most rising star MPs worked for think tanks or as special advisers before being elected. This has created a disconnection between the problems of the outside world and the problems of Westminster. Case in point is the low importance most voters place on EU membership (either in or out), but this debate still dominates Westminster.

Parliament is becoming increasingly abstract from the real world issues which affect most people lives and the root cause of this is the rising number of MPs from privileged backgrounds, who are privately educated and have only ever worked in Westminster. This is hurting our democracy as more people become disaffected with politics. Faith can only be restored in politics when politicians take steps to change this overrepresentation. All parties need to take action to stop this trend and have candidates which reflect the income and educational background of their constituents. In short, fewer Etonians and more people who have experience of the everyday problems most  people have to deal with.