Thursday, 30 June 1983

Thatcher and Friends: Chapter 3 – The Tory Elite

By John Ross

Any analysis of the Tory Party itself might as well start at the top. A suitable point of departure is the original membership of Thatcher's Cabinet.

The team that launched the Thatcherite project was in fact fairly typical of Conservative Cabinets. Of its members, 71 per cent were company directors, 14 per cent were large landowners, and 10 per cent were lawyers, with some overlap between the categories of landowner and company director. Eighty six per cent of the Cabinet had been to public school. Only one out of 22 was a woman (increased to two after the Cabinet reshuffle of September 1981, but reduced to one again in 1983).

Moving down a rung to look at Tory MPs in the original Thatcherite Parliament we find that 170 (50.1 per cent) were directors of companies - in fact between them these 170 were on the boards of 475 private companies. (The equivalent figures of Labour MPs were 0.6 per cent on the boards of three private companies, and a further 0.6 per cent on the ‘boards’ of cooperative societies.)

If we take the principal occupations, as opposed to simply the membership of company boards, an identical pattern shows up. Of Tory MPs 40.6 per cent had direct business backgrounds as executives, managers, bankers, stockbrokers, or farmers.

The ‘professional’; layers which made up virtually all the rest of Tory MPs also had a very definite character. By far the largest number of these were lawyers and accountants - making up 24.1 per cent of all Tory MPs. Of the rest, 5.8 per cent came from the armed forces and 2.4 per cent from the apparatus of the Tory Party or employers' organisations. Taken as a whole, 73.0 per cent of Tory MPs were products of public schools - 14.7 per cent from Eton alone.

In other words, the Tory Party in Parliament and government is totally dominated by company boards professions closely ties to business such as accountancy and law, and some sections of the state apparatus such as the armed forces. These together with the apparatus of the Tory Party and employers' organisation themselves, made up 7.3 per cent of Tory MPs. All other groups pale into insignificance compared with these layers.

The party outside Parliament

The Tory Party leadership locally, as one would expect, is less narrowly recruited. But it still shows an identical basic shape. A survey for 1969 showed 33 per cent of constituency chairpersons of Conservative Associations to be owners of large or medium businesses, company directors, or executives. A further 16 per cent were small businessmen/women and 9 per cent were farmers or landowners. (i.e. 58 per cent of Conservative constituency chairpersons came directly from business or management occupations). A further 14 per cent were lawyers or accountants.

The situation is similar among the wider membership of the Conservative Party. A 1964 survey indicated that 40 per cent of Conservative Party members and 42 per cent of Conservative activists (and 85 per cent of constituency chairpersons) were made up of employers, managers, and ‘higher professional’ layers.

Educationally the only major difference between Conservatives in Parliament and senior layers outside was a distinction between constituency chairpersons in Conservative held seats and those in Labour held ones. In safe Conservative seats 52 per cent of constituency chairpersons came from public schools and in Tory marginals, 44 per cent. In marginal Labour seats, however, only 25 per cent of Conservative constituency chairpersons were educated at public schools and in safe Labour seats only 20 per cent were.

In other words, at the local level, the same backbone of business and business orientated professions, educated in public schools, dominated the Tory heartland. The Tory Party was slightly more ragged round the edges in Labour areas.

Labour and Conservatives

It is also worth comparing these figures to those for the Labour Party because there has been some confused discussion in recent years about a ‘;convergence’; between the social origins and occupations of Labour and Tory MPs. Quite apart from the much more fundamental issue of the social nature and financing of the two parties this argument is simply not factually true and can only be sustained by sloppy use of journalistic formulas such as ‘;middle class’; and ‘;professional’;. Table 4 shows the main occupations from which Labour and Tory MPs came in 1979 and also compares their educational backgrounds and company directorships.

Table 4


It can be seen from this Table that it is quite simply misleading, and obscures the fundamental features, to talk of Labour and Tory MPs becoming increasingly ‘middle class’.

This is not, of course, intended to justify the existing social composition of MPs. There IS a stupendous lack of social representativeness in the MPs of both parties. Manual workers are essentially non-existent among Tory MPs and only around a sixth of Labour ones - most of those in the category of ‘;manual and clerical workers’; had in fact ceased to work at these jobs many years before. The percentage of women Labour MPs and candidates in 1979 cannot be considered any more creditable than that of the Conservative Party (5 per cent to 2 per cent in favour of Labour among women MPs, and 8 per cent to 5 per cent among candidates). There were only two black Tory candidates in 1979 and only one black Labour candidate. Only one more woman was elected to Parliament in 198 than in 1979.

But taking the social layers which are represented, these are evidently not the same for Labour MPs and Tory MPs. The Labour MPs represent essentially layers based in the organisations of the labour movement and parts of the public sector such as education, local government, and the civil service. These make up 70 per cent of Labour MPs. The equivalent occupations to these made up only 14 per cent of Tory MP. Tory professionals are not drawn from occupations such as the state education system but from the traditional occupations of private enterprise such as law and accountancy.

Whatever Tory and Labour MPs represent, therefore, the social layers they come from are evidently not the same. We will consider later whether the top personnel of the Tory Party actually correspond to the overall character of the party.

International comparisons

Finally it is worth comparing the Tory Party with the capitalist parties of other major countries.
Taking first the United States, the US legislature is much more dominated by corporation and other lawyers than the British one. In 1982, for example, 57 per cent of the US Senate was made up of lawyers - compared to 21 per cent of Tory MPs and 9 per cent of Labour MPs. There is also in the United States the famous ‘fringe’ of astronauts, actors, ‘machine politicians’, etc.

The most serious business of government in the United States, and also the most direct input of the capitalist corporations in terms of personnel, is the role of professionals financed by major companies on bodies which are wholly unelected. Typical examples are Reagan's Secretary of Defence Caspar Weinberger and Secretary of State George Shultz, who were both top officials of the Bechtel Corporation which is the largest overseas construction contractor in the world. Other typical figures of the same type were, or are: Dean Rusk (president of the Rockefeller Foundation and Secretary of State); Dean Acheson (corporation lawyer and Secretary of State); Robert McNamara (successively president of Ford's, Kennedy's Secretary for Defence, and then head of the World Bank) and Henry Kissinger (writer of Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, worker for the Council on Foreign Relations, and then Nixon's National Security Adviser and Secretary of State). The formal separation of legislature and executive in the American system means that such figures need not run for office, but are appointed by the President.

The business connections of the British Tory Cabinets, as we have seen, are as impeccable as their US counterparts - indeed, they are probably much more directly involved in the ownership of capital than many of those listed above for the United States. But the Tories are also not merely members of the Cabinet but also members of the legislature - a privilege denied to their American counterparts. The direct connection between the economic organisation of the capitalist class and the exercise of power is, if anything, even greater in the Tory Party than in the political parties of the United States.

The comparison with the major capitalist parties of Western Europe is also striking. To take just one example, the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union, which is the dominant party of West German capitalism , attempts to give a much greater image of democracy and social representativeness than does the Tory Party. In 1969 56 per cent of CDU/CSU members of parliament were teachers, civil servants, trade union officials, party full-timers, and local politicians - compared with 73 per cent of Tory MPs who were company directors, managers, lawyers, accountants, members of the armed forces, or members of employers' organisations. This difference was sharply highlighted when the West German and Italian Christian Democrats refused to work in a common group with the Tories in the European Parliament. The reason they gave was that they were ‘people's’ parties not ‘Conservative’ parties and presented themselves as much more representative than the Tory Party.

The personnel of the Conservative Party, in short, are thoroughly, and indeed one might say extravagantly, capitalist in character. The connection of the Tory Party and the ruling class is one of the closest and tightest of any capitalist party in the world.

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