In January the Telegraph reported that 20% of new graduates were out of work 6 months after graduating, at a 15 year high, whilst the Guardian and BBC show similar trends. Stories are abound of graduates from all types of institution and degree struggling to find work, amid talk of a 'lost generation'. It is all too easy to question these grievances, as surely in a meritocracy such as the UK, those that fail to succeed simply are not working hard enough, or maybe the education system is over saturated with too many students. However, in my opinion, this would be a highly incorrect conclusion, as we do not live in a meritocracy at all.
A true meritocracy would undoubtedly be the fairest way to run a society where those that work hardest would get the most rewards regardless of their backgrounds, innate abilities and other factors that cannot be controlled by the individual. Our system is an intricately designed labyrinth of falsehoods created almost, it seems, to resemble a meritocracy, but lacking several key elements needed for such a creation to function as it should. This is defended by the 'elite' who have most benefited from it, as well as the odd recipient of good fortune, so that their children and kin may do the same. It is embedded, woven into the very fabric of our society.
We will start at the top. Dishearteningly, few people seem to know how the Prime Minister ever got his job, or the rest of the government for that matter. Boris Johnson is often portrayed as the typical 'Tory toff' when ironically, he worked hard at university politics to fight his way up the party ladder. In contrast Cameron showed little regard for politics having landed a Public Relations posting. Deciding one day that the people deserved a man like him, Cameron used his royal connections (fifth cousin twice removed of the Queen, reports the Times) to gain a foothold in the party as well as a safe seat in rural Oxfordshire, getting ahead of his old Bullingdon comrade Boris, without any of the hard work shown by Johnson. The Daily Mail describes this as a phone call from the Palace to Tory HQ on the eve of Cameron's first party job interview; "I understand you are to see David Cameron. I've tried everything I can to dissuade him from wasting his time on politics but I have failed. I am ringing to tell you that you are about to meet a truly remarkable young man." And yet here is a man who talks of fairness, when his entire position, if not his life, had been defined by the privileges of birth upon which no human has any say. There is nothing 'truly remarkable' about Cameron in terms of hard work or aptitude, only his birth. The left in this country is guilty of many gross hypocrisies but nothing compares to the sheer audacity of David Cameron to somehow argue for 'fairness' when all he has known is the wind from the beating of the stork's wings, blowing him into Downing Street.
What you probably will know of Cameron is that he enjoyed the classic establishment combination of private school then Oxbridge that has helped so many of our recent political figures, from all parties. Tony Blair went to Fettes then Oxford, George Osborne from St Paul's then Oxford, while both Nick Clegg and Anthony Benn went to Westminster School, where Big Ben is used to tell the time, and then to Cambridge and Oxford respectively. There is a painful correlation here. Private school pupils get into the top universities as, in exchange for funds that are 1/3 of the average UK salary (average private school fees per annum are around £11,000 whilst average salary is around £30,000), they get smaller class sizes and are given better methods of teaching than those at state schools. On top of this they are trained in the mystical ways of a successful Oxbridge application. Meanwhile the average state schooled adolescent is deceived into thinking that any subject choice will do, only to lose out when applying to the top jobs and institutions.
What message does that send to the youth of Britain? That we live in a fair society, a meritocracy? Of course it does not. Private schooling is not meritocratic. Just because one's parents have worked hard to gain the necessary funds does not mean that their offspring are entitled to an easy ride. It is no epiphany to say that generally, Black Britons are poorer than the rest. To reverse the previous correlation this means we should have very few Oxbridge alumni from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds. This is confirmed by the disquieting data from The Guardian showing that Blacks have only a 1 in 5 chance of getting into Oxford against 1 in 3 for Caucasians. Why is this? Is it because these people are weak? Do they not work as hard or are they less intelligent? Of course not. Had they the same privileges as the leaders of this land than they would achieve just as much. To quote Neil Kinnock; There is simply no platform upon which they can stand.
After university, the privileged get the cushy internships, work experience and contacts, all from the residue of their conception, and all sweeping them into well paid, rewarding careers. This accounts for many industries and institutions, banking, accountancy, politics and even journalism- indeed 20 leading Guardian journalists went to private schools despite their liberal hand wringing over the 'poor'. In contrast those who worked just as hard, or often harder, little remains with record levels of graduate unemployment. This is not subject related, contrary to the government's suggestions, recent studies by the Higher Education Careers Service Unit (HECSU) shows that English has a 9.0% graduate unemployment level versus 11.7% for the apparently untouchable field of Physics. Yet those who complain are accused of being idle or lazy, such is the irony of this false meritocracy.
As for solutions; the current cabinet has 23/29 millionaires and Cameron's refusal to crack down on internships suggests a British Spring is needed in Westminster and Whitehall, to truly solve these issues. I would like to see the abolition of all selective schools and a pool of internees who, having reached a meritocratic minimum of qualification, are randomly chosen for intern work at a company, who must pay them reasonably (at least the minimum wage) for their participation. By getting rid of private schools, we will defeat this gross inequality of opportunity that fractures our nation. Though this may undermine certain qualities in the system, it will be beneficial in the long term. If we claim to live in a society where all are treated equally and live together in spite of race, religion et al, then we must educate them in the same environment. Otherwise, class, ethnic and other divisions continue to bloom. Waterloo was not won on the playing fields of Eton, it was won on the streets of Manchester, Amsterdam and Berlin, in the unbreakable spirit of the Coalition army as a collective entity rather than its individual commanders.
Our leaders have created a system where we can in theory succeed, but in reality where very many cannot. They do this to protect their own ambitions and comforts and to massage their own egos. It is time to fix our meritocracy, so that all our talents and efforts are valued equally, that we may be judged, not for what we are but what we could be. Then that, my friends, will be 'fairness'.