'Millionaires’ row': UK ministers out-of-touch with ordinary people
Prime Minister David Cameron attended Eton and Oxford, while the chancellor, George Osborne, attended exclusive London schools before going to Oxford and the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, is a graduate of Westminster School and Cambridge. None come from ordinary backgrounds.
“There is a lot of people that have been political advisors of one kind or another, and that’s growing as each parliament goes by,” the opposition Labour MP Dennis Skinner says. “We’ve got the biggest snob of all time – Cameron – ruling the roost. The snobs are there to be seen on the Tory benches in particular. I call it millionaires’ row.”
Dennis Skinner is an MP who would once have been seen as traditional British Labour Party stock. The son of a miner, and an ex-miner himself, he came up through the ranks, became a trade union leader, a councillor, and then a Labour Party MP in 1970.
It is a route into politics that has become almost obsolete, replaced by a career path through top universities, via special advisor posts, into ministerial jobs. That is how Ed Miliband, the leader of the party in which the core support base was once the working classes, got his job.
“You have the Labour Party quite detached at times from ordinary working class voters,” Policy Exchange's deputy director David Skelton said. “And the impact of both political parties being slightly out of touch with ordinary working class voters is that a lot of working class people have decided not even to vote in elections.”
The figures confirm this detachment. Some 60 per cent of today’s cabinet went to fee-paying schools, compared with just 7 per cent of the total population. Just some 30 years ago, 40 per cent of Labour MPs came from manual or clerical jobs, compared with just 9 per cent today.
There has been a real reduction in the number of MPs who have first-hand experience of the trials and tribulations of working class families.
The legitimacy of parliament depends on it being representative and acting on the concerns of the majority of society. So the worry is that the less people feel they are being represented, the more they will be turned away from traditional politics, and the more distant they will be from politicians.
That could mean greater numbers turning to disruptive ways of making their voices heard – through demonstrations and even violence.
Under the current government, the UK has seen a surge in protests, some ending in serious trouble on the streets after demonstrations by people who do not feel their representatives are representing them.
“These people have not got a clue what it is like to be an ordinary person,” one protester said. “These are millionaires, multi-millionaires, looking after the interests of millionaires and multi-millionaires.”
“I don’t think they represent people,” said another. “You just need to look at the Conservative cabinet – it is full of people who have very privileged and wealthy backgrounds, and I don’t see how they could possibly represent working people in this country.”
“We’re all in this together” is the rallying cry of the current government in these times of financial austerity. Coming from a leadership of the privileged and independently wealthy, it rings especially hollow for many. As the belt tightens, so too the anger and alienation of those who feel they have no voice in the corridors of power rises.