Note to readership: I have been having a very bad brain day today. This blog post came out in fits and starts over about 6 hours. Normally something like this would take about 15 minutes. So please understand if I am not as quick to respond to comments as usual. Thanks.
Much is often made* of the fact that our politics in this country is done by the privileged, not just in terms of race and gender, but class; that you need to have money to get anywhere; and that our journalists are from similarly privileged backgrounds and do a bad job of scrutinising the politicians. We need to break down the elites that govern us to truly have a fairer society in which everyone can get on in life**, we are told. Just as an example, there's this piece
on Scarlet Standard which I read earlier.
There is certainly an argument to be made that there are too many people in parliament/journalism who haven't the first clue what it's like to be poor, and it's also true that being privately educated means that your parents had some money when you were a kid. But because there is an overlap between those two groups does not mean that they are the same thing***.
The problem I have with attacking people for being privately educated is that people don't fit into neat little boxes with interchangeable labels. Compare and contrast the following two examples:
- A privately educated, able-bodied, cis white person, with post graduate law degree, and family in positions of power/privilege including running a radio station, a famous artist, and headmaster of a school
- A bisexual single mother from a family of socialist activists who abandoned the Labour party after Clause Four was removed, who has never had a job paying much more than minimum wage, and who has often gone without food to pay the rent or feed her child?
Both of those are, of course, descriptions of me. But in the extremely
unlikely event I were to become an MP, which of those descriptors would be chosen for me by the people who think we should have class warfare? You can bet a lot of people, especially in the Labour party, would pick the first set, and bemoan yet another privately educated white lawyer getting into parliament****.
I don't particularly resent that; the Labour party is as the Labour party does, and it's not for me to tell the opposition what they can and can't attack me on*****. But me personally? I think every politician is an individual, whatever their educational status, or gender, or race, or whatever, and we should be critiquing what they do, or how ill-informed they are on a topic, not
where they come from. If they are unfairly legislating against the poor (or women, or immigrants, or whatever), or if they show breathtaking lack of knowledge on a topic, then attack them for THAT, not for the choices their parents made for them when they were young.
, however, object to the lack of diversity in parliament and journalism. Not because it's unfair (although it is) or because it's unrepresentative (although it is), but because the homogeneity of person going into parliament/journalism leads to a homogeneity of thinking, and that leads to poorer parliament and poorer journalism. Study after study shows that diversity increases success in business and in other fields, so it should definitely be encouraged. But the problem would be the same if parliament were entirely composed of poor women, rather than being largely composed of rich men as it is now. The problem is the homogeneity, not the attributes of the homogenous people. That's why we ought to look to achieving diversity, not promote more of one type of person or another.
Acheiving diversity is very difficult, though, which I think is why many try to reduce it to a box-ticking exercise. You don't achieve diversity by having x percentage of people possessing y attributes in a given field and then it's done and you don't have to worry about it any more. Which attributes do you pick for that anyway? Race, gender expression, sexuality, mental health status, physical health status, whether you're a parent or not...? The list is potentially endless. Increasing the number of women in parliament won't achieve diversity if they are all rich; increasing the number of poor people in parliament will not achieve diversity if they are all white; etc. etc..
To achieve diversity, powerful elites need to consciously look outside their comfort zones, and purposefully seek out people who think differently in order to learn from them. Otherwise you end up with recruitment processes like this:
... where no matter how many boxes are ticked, nepotism still holds sway.
*regularly by me, it must be said
**on message, in volume, over time, that's me.
***and even if it did, there is nothing to stop a rich person from truly empathising with the poor, just as there's nothing to stop the poor from reading the Daily Mail and moaning about scroungers.
*****While I do, of course, reserve the right to respond in whatever way I see fit.