Sathnam Sanghera: We got rid of empire, now we must fight for social equality
Times writer Sathnam Sanghera cited Leading People research in a column on inequality
For reasons unrelated to the writing of this column, I have spent the past two months reading extensively about the history of the British Empire. It has been an extraordinary experience, not only because it has forced me to face up to the brutality that went into the enterprise and how poorly this vital aspect of history is taught in our schools, but also because it has made me see modern Britain in a new light.
So many things about contemporary society, good and bad, can seemingly be explained by the legacy of empire, from what Jeremy Paxman in Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British calls “the supercilious vanity” of the Foreign Office to our internationalism (three quarters of Brits have passports, compared with less than a third of Americans), tabloid jingoism, food, clothing, language and endless anxiety about our status in the world.
Then there is what the story of empire tells us about how power works for the Britain establishment. Indeed, as controversy has raged in recent weeks over initiatives to improve social mobility, with Lord Waldegrave of North Hill, the provost of Eton College, threatening to resign from the Conservative party over government plans to make employers ask candidates whether they attended an independent school, and my colleague Matthew Parris being lambasted for writing that the posh need to be sneered at to bring about crucial change, I have seen endless parallels to the story of empire.
Such as? Well, not least, there is the fact that the British Empire was run by an elite, just as Britain is today. You’ve doubtless seen the stunning statistics from the Sutton Trust that independent schools educate only 7 per cent of the population, about one in 14 people, and yet account for nearly three quarters of top military officers, three quarters of senior judges, half of prominent print journalists, the majority of leading newspaper editors, nearly a third of MPs, half the cabinet and so on.
Read his full column here (£)