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Elitism: The Cancer of the UK.

Updated on October 16, 2014

We're All On The Cambridge (And Oxford) Diet:

A while ago, Pointless was on TV. It's a quirky quiz show where the questions are based on answers given by a cross-section of 100 people. The aim of the game is, the lower you score (equal to the more obscure answer given by the public) the farther one progresses in the game. Cash is actually added to the main prize fund, if a player gets a correct answer in a category that none of the 100 polled mentioned (a Pointless answer). It's a placidly interesting game, something to while away the spare 45 minutes between the news, or getting the evening meal ready before Prime Time viewing. The presenters themselves are fairly innocuous and the show itself is imbued with a kind of vague, nebulous humour and curiosity, it's hosts are the conduits of such affable feeling and as a programme, it contains enough general knowledge to pique the interest of any quizzical mind...

... That was my first attempt at being the critic of a TV show. How did I do? We'll leave the critique of my critique until later (the comments) for now. Because for now I wish to focus on the frequent revelation I experience many an afternoon, a sinister undercurrent underpinning the harmless geniality of Pointless presenters Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman. I look at them and realise that if these two suited, middle-aged, successful and intelligent men had been born and raised in a former industrial or mining town and lived on the breadline, subjected to the perennial stain of the magnetism of poverty replete in those towns, would they be suited, successful and intelligent? The realist/pessimist answers no. So why are they? Both Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman are Cambridge Graduates...

Alumnuts!

Cambridge University, stoic and grandiose bastion of enlightenment in the western and English speaking worlds. Alma Mater to Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking and Prince Charles. As many as 90 Nobel Laureates have been affiliated with the institution. Founded as early as 1209 after an academic dispute prompted some Oxford scholars to break ranks with the university and form one of their own. Officially founded in 1231 by Henry III when the king issued a charter (Oxford followed suit in 1238). Since then, it has regularly been among the highest echelons of academic excellence, often ranked as the best University in the world (having attained this accolade only several years ago). The Oxford and Cambridge rivalry is legendary, embodied by the Boat Race along the Thames, taking place every Spring. Yet their reputation for being the only avenues to the top in the UK is as legendary as the Boat Race itself. Harvard, Yale and MIT constantly trump Oxbridge (as the cabal of the nation's top two universities have become known - a portmanteau of privilege) to the top of the league tables as the best centres of learning, and why? More money or more meritocracy?

Pointless?

Today, degrees and university education are favoured more than ever and every year, Sixth Form College produces greater totals of potential Undergraduates. Yet this causes a pile up of mortarboards at the other end and when alumni from certain campuses are favoured over another, the scales tip even further away from the pipe dream that is social mobility. Such an inference (it's never fully addressed) smacks of a more insidious culture that has pervaded our nation for nigh on a millennia... the caustic mar of blue blood!

"It's not what you know, but who you know... "

... The current Prime Minister of the UK is David Cameron. A Conservative. Conservatives favour lower taxes, fewer social services and espouse the benefits of self-reliance and less accountable business practices and banking, right-wing and usually friends of those with cash to influence such philosophies as stated above. David Cameron is also an Eton alum, an Oxford Grad and, 5th cousin to Queen Elizabeth II. The deep rooted cronyism goes straight to the heart here!

Recently, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission painted a stark picture of the injustice in a United Kingdom where we are all vassals. The Commission found that 71% of top judges, 62% of senior Armed Forces Officers, 55% of top civil servants, 43% of newspaper columnists and 36% of the Cabinet were educated in Private Schools.

Of those who attended Oxbridge: 75% are judges, 59% are the Cabinet, 57% of permanent secretaries, 50% of diplomats, 47% are newspaper columnists, 38% of the House of Lords and 24% of the Shadow Cabinet are comprised of alumni of these elite institutions. *Source: BBC.

One could argue that the mission of companies is to seek the best for employment into their companies and improve said companies further, which may have been the case under the more meritocratic system of the Grammar School. In the halcyon days where a gifted child could pass an 11+, progress to a top university and move through the halls of power itself (Margaret Thatcher), the sky was the limit... now, largely thanks to many of Thatcher's policies, affording Sky TV is often people's limit!

Karl Marx wrote that the elite required a large pool of impoverished people to draw from in order to keep their positions of dominance tenable. But why is this case in our nation? And why does it so often creep through us so unchecked?

Feudalism Takes Centre Stage.

Our penchant for having a liege has no doubt been heavily ingrained in our psyche since the Norman Conquest. Before 1066, there was a nobility in England, the King, the Ealdormen and selected members of those who formed The Witan, a kind of ruling council to advise the king. Once William The Conqueror seized the English throne, he introduced the Feudal System that the Normans (cultured Vikings that settled in northern France), inherited from the French system, carving up England like a Christmas turkey between those who helped William gain the throne and those allies of his from Normandy.

This was the Feudal System: a teen becomes a Squire, a Knight, a Baron, Earl, finally Duke if they're extremely lucky. Once a Baron, a man becomes a landowner and the lands and their people (serfs) come with it. Serfs belonged to their lord and master along with the acres of land and livestock therein. A serf was dictated to about where they were allowed to dwell, what was permitted in terms of food, even their clothing must denote their station...

... Spin the clock forward from the Middle Ages to today. The details may have changed, but the situation hardly has. The Feudal System exists in modern form in the House of Lords, a body of unelected Peers who have the power to accept or deny any Bill coming up from the Commons and our voted representatives (before it gains Royal Assent from The Queen, another unelected figure bestowed with the grace of Head of State until her death... I'm a Royalist, believe it or not). It pervades us in our sense of heedless capitalism that preaches from it's Stock Exchange pulpits that "Greed Is God/Good." And it stalks our society, scrutinising those on the poverty line, treating them as pariahs and lepers, to be feared and avoided at all costs. The Televangelist, Jeremy Kyle parades what you will become should you slip between the cracks every morning (broadcasted, oddly enough, at a time when the masses have entered the rat race and only the pariahs are mostly at home).

In the days of Yore, the most a commoner could possibly hope to be was the Harlequin, or jester that entertained the blue bloods as they feasted. Now this gap is even closing. The rise of the "Posh Brit Actor," although always common, seems to be the rule of thumb nowadays. Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, Damian Lewis, Dominic West... all privately educated from a well to do background. Other established names of the stage and screen have even voiced their concern over a lack of diversity in the face of this increasing trend. Julie Walters mentioned her fear of a "future where only the posh can act." Coming off the back of fellow actress Sheridan Smith's concerns over not finding a serious role, Walters said: “Back then, it was still possible for a working-class kid like me to study drama because I got a grant.” Adding: “I look at almost all the up-and-coming names and they're from the posh schools. Don't get me wrong … they're wonderful.”

But is does cast (sic.) a rather bleak ensemble of the nation's skewed thinking and lack of opportunity for the vast swathe of it's populace. Even Judi Dench has waded in to criticise the unfairness of chances on stage and screen and how a decline in repertory theatre has diminished the rise of the working class thespian.

Russell Brand has called for revolution, and some decry that call as the trend setting anarchic drivel of a rich dandy. His wealth to the established elite is irrelevant. He will always be deemed "New Money," a polite, mildly derisive jibe at best, an openly hostile excoriation, wielded by blue blood fury at a serf not knowing his place, at worst.

Elitism rots our country from the inside out. It is the slag spewed from the Satanic Mills. It is the contemptuously low levels of minimum wage and the expenses scandal. It is the doffed cap and Downton Abbey. The Labour Party movement in the early 20th century dangled a carrot of liberty to the great unwashed. Therefore the elite had to develop biological warfare in order to eradicate the growing power of the masses, it took the form of Thatcherism. Under Thatcherism, the rights of workers, deregulated banks, sold off national utilities ravaged the weakling, mewling babe of egalitarianism... welcome to modern Britain!

© Brad James, 2014.

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    • bradjames1983 profile image
      Author

      Bradley James Yellop 3 years ago from Southend-on-Sea

      The guillotine comment was purposely flippant. Which shows you the system is wrong and broken. Doesn't mean you shouldn't try and fix it.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      The guillotine was invented in England to punish thieves. If we thought guillotining the upper classes was going to get us anywhere we'd be disillusioned. The next lot would set up their own elite (like in the USSR/China/North Korea) and we'd have the same old mullarky all over again, as they had in France with Citizen Robespierre and the rest of the revolutionary band... Next thing they had was Napoleon, Louis, Napoleon again, Louis, and back to square one. Now they've got bent presidents.

      Any questions?

    • bradjames1983 profile image
      Author

      Bradley James Yellop 3 years ago from Southend-on-Sea

      The Guillotine worked for the French. And you can disassemble preconceived notions of a man made society. Our politics and government don't underpin the very existence of the universe. If they were to be removed, life would still go on.

    • Dr Billy Kidd profile image

      Dr Billy Kidd 3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      alancaster149. that's a better way of saying it: we can't get rid of elites. In my mind, they own the place!

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      We had a feudal system in England before William I. The Witan were senior clergymen and nobles. We had a graded society between king at the top and thrall (or serf) at the bottom, chattels on two legs, no better off than the oxen or other animals bought and sold. The Normans abolished thralls (slaves by another name), replacing them with villeins who were tied to their lord and the land. Only the townsfolk were free, both before and after 1066.

      As Dr Billy Kidd says above, we have one elite, the US and others have another. You can't get rid of elites unless you try Pol Pot's methods. They didn't work for Cambodia, Mao's didn't work for China, and the Korean version is a disaster.

      As it is David Cameron is no worse than David Miliband, and the opposition benches are occupied largely by Oxbridge graduates.

      As for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, neither went to University, never mind Oxbridge.

    • Dr Billy Kidd profile image

      Dr Billy Kidd 3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      The elitism you speak of in the United Kingdom isn't all that different than the authoritarian capitalism found in China. The U.S. is moving in that direction, too--now that the Supreme Court ruled that there is no limit on what a billionaire can spend to buy an election. China is different than the U.S., however. Wages are rising there, while in the U.S. they are falling--just like opportunity has been limited in the U.K.