Last week Boris Johnson delivered a speech to a Royal Horticultural Society audience in Wisley, Surrey, before heading to the affluent village of Oxshott to buy some fennel and tarragon sausages and have a cup of tea in the Munch and Wiggles cafe. In a series of interviews later that day, he was unwilling to reveal the provenance of the staged photograph of him and his partner, Carrie Symonds. He was, however, able to insist that Britain would leave the European Union, “do or die”, by the end of October.
On the same day, the Sutton Trust and the Social Mobility Commission issued a report into elitism in Britain that “paints a picture of a country whose power structures are dominated by a narrow section of the population [where] social mobility is low and not improving”. Those who went to private school comprise 7% of the country’s population but 39% of the elite; those who went to Oxford or Cambridge university comprise less than 1% of the population but 24% of the elite. Senior judges, junior ministers, permanent secretaries and diplomats are among the least representative professions. But the media, and particularly newspaper columnists, are right up there, too.
There is a clear and undeniable link between the entrenched and calcifying class stratification in British society and the inept chaos in which we currently find ourselves. The gene puddle from which the elite siphons its ranks has become shallow and fetid. Those who make the laws in government, oversee the civil service that will implement them, adjudicate on them in court or assess them in newspapers, are drawn from such a narrow social layer that they might as well be the same person. Even when they do not form a majority, their critical mass is such that they set the tone, define the culture and shape the parameters for what is institutionally permissible. [Continue reading…]