Why do so many politicians hate meritocracy?

Elena Bunbury

August 26, 2018

Positive discrimination within politics in on the rise, with all-minority shortlists increasingly becoming the norm. Brandon Lewis, Chairman of the Conservative Party, recently announced his aim to make the Conservative parliamentary candidates list a 50:50 gender split, and the Labour Party is increasingly using discriminatory shortlists like the all Women and BME shortlist for the Lewisham East by-election.

But why are we tolerating discrimination of any kind? Surely the only determining factor for whether you get a job is your merits? Well, not for today’s politicians, for whom “meritocracy” is increasingly becoming a dirty word.

Indeed, there seems to be an assertion that to be able to represent a view or issue within politics you must have gone through it first hand. However, this is simply illogical. To paraphrase Milton Friedman, would anybody refuse treatment from a doctor unless the doctor had experienced the same illness too? Of course not.

Through research and basic human empathy, it is very easy to represent and put forward ideas and views that may not directly apply to you. If this were not the case, then surely we would scrap all MPs and have a referendum on every issue to ensure every single minority is directly represented at all times.

Indeed, in 2018, when a growing number of people do not identify with a gender at all, why are we so fascinated with having a 50:50 split? I was born a female, I identify as a woman, but that does not define me. I enjoy sports, some other women do not; I am a neoliberal, other women are not; I went to university, numerous women did not, and all of these factors have shaped my views. 

Being a woman does not influence every decision I make and it does not make me unified with other women on political issues. This is the same for other minorities such as black people and LGBT people; there are just too many factors that shape who a person is, so we need to stop dividing people because of biology, race or sexual preference.

Whenever a candidate is on a discriminatory shortlist,  they must always wonder whether they would have been selected as the best candidate, or whether they are simply a convenient tick in the box for a political party. It has created such a damaging culture where one’s merits are always questioned because of the need to fulfil quotas.

Unfortunately, seeing a panel of all women looks intentional because we have cultivated the belief that those women cannot possibly be there on their own merit, instead they must have been placed there to prove a progressive point.

Indeed, Harriet Harman, a leading feminist voice in the Labour Party, recently suggested that the next leadership election in her party should be a women-only contest. This is a fundamentally condescending view of women, suggesting that the only way a woman could ever be good enough is if you force through an all-women candidate list. Ms Harman must have missed the fact that the Conservative Party has elected two female leaders after open and fair elections, purely on the basis of merit.

I, for one, want an MP who I know is the best person for the job, not someone who is there because of their gender, race or sexuality. Indeed, meritocracy is the shining ethos of the Conservative Party – or at least it used to be. We used to be the party of opportunity, where it didn’t matter who you were or where you came from, what mattered was what you had to offer.

It’s time to let that meritocracy shine through once again and allow everyone a chance to stand, so that we have the best possible people making those important decisions, regardless of how good they would look on a photo-op.


Written by Elena Bunbury

Elena Bunbury is Head of Communications at 1828.


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