"No one would have imagined 20 years ago we'd be going back to Old Etonian prime ministers," said historian David Kynaston, who is chronicling the way British society has changed since World War II in a series of books. "It was kind of thought once that class was going away."
But here too the picture is more nuanced. While Britons may focus on the aristocratic lineage of Cameron and his finance minister, George Osborne, they often overlook a new category of career politicians, many of them wealthy individuals with school connections. And while gender and ethnic diversity have grown, the participation of working-class candidates who enter politics after holding "real world" jobs has withered.
When Thatcher became prime minister in 1979, she was one of only 19 women in the House of Commons, 3 percent of the total. Not one lawmaker out of more than 600 came from an ethnic minority. Almost half had attended private schools, while 36 percent went to Oxbridge, as Oxford and Cambridge are collectively known. The lawmakers included 96 lawyers, 49 teachers and 138 businesspeople — but also 98 manual workers, including 21 former miners.
In the current Parliament, 22 percent of legislators are women and 4.2 percent are from an ethnic minority. Just over a third of lawmakers went to private school and 27 percent to Oxbridge. There are still scores of lawyers and businesspeople, but only 25 former manual workers. And a total of 90 members of Parliament now give their background as "politician/political organizer," more than four times as many as did so in 1979.
"There are many more call-center workers than ever there were miners, but it's hard to envisage how a call-center worker would become a member of Parliament in the current system," said Labour Party lawmaker Jon Trickett, a former plumber and builder.
THE SONG AND DANCE
If the bastions of business, politics and the professions were hard for working-class people to storm, there was always entertainment, where a working-class hero, as John Lennon put it, was something to be. You don't need money or a degree to be a movie star or play rock 'n' roll.