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Pleb or posh – the UK Cabinet’s class position analysed

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The  Andrew Mitchell row over the abuse allegedly hurled at police by the UK Government’s chief whip, and whether or not he called them plebs, brings the political focus back on to whether Britain is being governed by a bunch of out of touch posh boys. Here is a guide to the essential information to allow you to make up your mind. (Definitions and analysis are given below.) Included is information on the nature of Cabinet members’ work before they became MPs, which speaks to the issue of how out of touch they may or may not be.

So, if you consider there is a rather large proportion of people who walked out of Oxbridge into jobs as policy wonks, political researchers, PR types or in the media, you may conclude they have little connection with real people particularly in these hard times. If there is a high proportion of miners, say, that would defeat such a presumption (there is, in fact, one).

Cabinet role            Name           Party    Class/Uni            Former job

Prime Minister David Cameron Con Patrician
Oxon
 Wonk
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg Lib Patrician
Camb
 Lobbyist,
journalist,
int affairs
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne Con Patrician
Oxon
 Wonk
Chairman of the Conservative Party; Minister Without Portfolio Grant Shapps Con Pleb
Manchester Polytechnic
Trade
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander Lib Pleb
Oxon
 Political PR
Chief Whip in the House of Commons; Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury Andrew Mitchell* Con Patrician
Camb
Army, posh
banking,
int affairs
First Secretary of State; Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs William Hague Con Pleb
Oxon
Management consultant
Home Secretary; Minister for Women and Equality Theresa May Con Patrician
Oxon
Financial
consultant
Leader of the House of Commons; Lord Privy Seal Andrew Lansley Con Patrician
Exeter
Political
adviser
Leader of the House of Lords; Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Lord Strathclyde Con Posh
East Anglia
Hereditary
peer, broker,
landowner
Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling Con Patrician
Camb
TV production
Minister for the Cabinet Office; Paymaster General Francis Maude Con Patrician
Camb
Barrister
Minister of State for Universities and Science David Willetts Con Patrician
Oxon
Wonk
Minister of State in the Cabinet Office Oliver Letwin Con Patrician
Camb
Academic
research
Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills Vince Cable Lib Patrician
Camb
Economist,
int affairs
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles Con Pleb
Leeds Poly
Politics, consultant, council leader
Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport Maria Miller Con Pleb
LSE
Advertising/ marketing
Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond Con Patrician
Oxon
Business, manufacturing, property
Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove Con Patrician
Oxon
Journalist
Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey Lib Patrician
Oxon
Wonk
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Owen Paterson Con Patrician
Camb
Manufacturing
/Retail
Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt Con Patrician
Oxon
Business, PR
Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening Con Pleb
Soton
Accountancy
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers Con Patrician
Bristol/Oxon
Barrister
Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore Lib Patrician
Edinburgh
Wonk, accountant
Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin Con Working class
Staffordshire College of Ag
Farmworker, mining
Secretary of State for Wales David Jones Con Patrician/trade
UCL
Solicitor
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith Con Patrician
Sandhurst
Army,
industry
Attorney General Dominic Grieve Con Patrician
Oxon
Barrister
Senior Minister of State at the Foreign Office; Minister for Faith and Communities Sayeeda Warsi Con Pleb/trade
Leeds
Solicitor, political
Minister without Portfolio (Minister of State) Kenneth Clarke Con Pleb
Camb
Barrister

Definitions and Analysis
The original terms patrician and plebeian distinguished the elite quasi-aristocratic people of Rome from the important land-owning class. The definition of pleb in this piece is not the modern term of abuse for the vulgar lower orders but ranges from lower middle class upwards and those with working class backgrounds who have joined the upwardly mobile (not merely by becoming MPs).

Patrician is quite widely defined as the elite bourgeoisie and their adherents, covering sons and daughters of Anglican clergymen or Army officers, professional people as well as those with a little bit of noble blood in them (such as Cameron, Osborne or Villiers) – people who would mix happily on the lawn of a fine country house eating cucumber sandwiches but wouldn’t be seen dead with a Cornish pasty in hand unless for political purposes.

The class positions are based largely on family background and schooling rather than university or subsequent career.

“Trade” covers minor trading, small businesses etc not patrician types with posh family businesses – thus George Osborne escapes the vulgar label of “being in trade”.

A wonk is a general description for paid political service such as party policy work – usually taken by 21-year-olds straight out of Oxbridge.

Those with a background of upwardly mobile working class parents (running their own businesses for example) are generally deemed plebs rather than working class themselves on the basis of their own middle class working experience (eg Ken Clarke).

Patrick McLoughlin is the only truly working class member of the Cabinet, having a working class background and having also got his own hands dirty. Eric Pickles, self-confessed pleb, misses out on the more honourable title of working class since he does not measure up to these strict criteria.

Michael Gove is in an anomalous position, having a plebeian, possibly even working class, background. His adopted father was a fish trader in Aberdeen  – but somehow it just wouldn’t seem right to call him a pleb. His work experience is in national journalism.

Iain Duncan Smith went to Sandhurst, pretty posh. His misleading description of his higher education background was examined by the BBC’s Michael Crick. Duncan Smith has since corrected his CV. Given his officer class background and patrician bearing, however, we are happy to accept his original estimation of his class status.

There are therefore 21 patrician-types (or pseudo-patricians) plus a fully blown hereditary posh poop, 8 plebs and one member of the working class.

Out of 31 Cabinet ministers there are 11 Oxford first degrees and 8 Cambridge, a total of 19. Edinburgh counts as pretty posh as far as Scots are concerned. University College London, the London School of Economics and Bristol are regarded as quite posh too, though not as exclusive.

Oh, and of course, there are only five women…

*Note: Mitchell has now been replaced by Sir George Young, Bt. Here is an assessment of how he affects the Cabinet’s social balance:
Sir George and the original cash for honours scandal

More on the Mitchell row: Why he can’t hide behind police officers’ thick skins

Twitter: alrich0660

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About alrich

Journalist and blogger on legal and financial/economics issues

One response »

  1. Pingback: Miliband’s One Nation: Novel approach may be a mere fairytale « angry i

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