26 September 2017

Are Britain’s elites racist – or just old?


As Benjamin Disraeli may or may not have said there are lies, damned lies and statistics. The Guardian‘s latest attempt to tell us all how horribly biased, unfair and quite possibly institutionally racist this Albion is has to be placed under the third of that triplet.

According to a new report called the Colour of Power, 97 per cent of all the important people are woefully lacking in melanin. But this is an outrage. Because they’ve missed something incredibly important – age cohorts. The ethnic composition of the population is not the same at all ages. Yet we draw those who’ve climbed the greasy pole to grasp the brass ring only from certain select ones.

I have actually read the whole thing – someone needs to so that you don’t have to – including their methodology, sources of information and so on and this isn’t mentioned once. They seem entirely blind to the manner in which the younger the portion of the population, the higher the BAME portion of it is. We are not in a gerontocracy, of course, but we do tend to ask for a certain level of experience in those we ask to actually run things.

There are minor amusements in their selection of those roughly top 1,000 people. Of their 12 party leaders four are from Northern Ireland. As a product, partially, of the grievances of Ulster, I’m well aware how deep they run in politics but we’d all think it a bit odd if immigrants to these isles – rather than immigrants among them – thought this was an issue worth scrabbling over.

To include all Chairs and CEOs of the top 50 NHS trusts as being among the country’s most important 1,000 power holders does seem to be genuflecting to the national religion a little too much. Not including any churchmen at all might be a fair reflection of their current importance, even if John Sentamu and Justin Welby not only keep telling us how to run the country but also get to vote on it in the Lords. And I, too, tremble at the power wielded by the editor of Hello! (no, really, one of the 1,000).

But their real error lies in their complete refusal to even engage with the subject of age cohorts. They draw their numbers for BAME Britons from the 2011 census. Which is the right source, it’s the best we’ve got, it gives us some 12.5 per cent of the population as such. But that same census also lays out that ethnic composition by age group. Among those over 85 – what we might call the top dogs of the last generation, or at least those they were drawn from – we’ve about 2 per cent BAME. Among those under 4 we seem to have some 21 per cent BAME. It’s a reasonable gradient between those two as well.

Large scale immigration is a fairly recent phenomenon. As such, the portion of BAME Britons declines as we work our way up through the age cohorts. Sure, we can all argue about which group we should be using as our proper comparator here, maybe it’s those past 50, or past 55, but we do start to get to groups which are some 7 and 8 per cent BAME when we consider those we think will have risen to float on the cesspool of national power.

This is, indeed, still more than the 3 per cent of those in power who have been identified as BAME. But, again, immigration is a relatively recent thing. We’d not think it greatly odd that recent immigrants  do not rise directly to the top of their new society. The last time that really happened was with William the Bastard and we most definitely don’t view immigrants as conquering hordes any more.

That the children born and educated here gain an equal shake of the stick is something we would and do all insist upon – but then no one at all is going to be surprised when Maro Itoje, in the richness of his maturity, climbs into the region of that thousand.

Disraeli was arguing that numbers, even true ones, can obfuscate as much as illuminate. Here the obfuscation is strong. It is, indeed, true that BAME representation among the powerful is lower than that in the general population. But given the recency of BAME immigration and the subsequent skew towards youth of that BAME population why would anyone dream it would be any other way?

The entire survey fails on this one single point. And as such, tends towards the earlier part of the Disraeli triplet.

Tim Worstall is Senior Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute