After the splendid book on Capitalism in America which he coauthored with Alan Greenspan, Adrian Wooldridge published a book on meritocracy and is understandably trying to rejuvenate its arguments.
He is intellectually reckless enough, to use the British Tory leadership as a case in point. Boris Johnson’s resignation has opened a contest in which ten candidates are running for leadership: which means being head of the government but also presumably the face of the party when new elections come. England is supposed to be a “class society” more than most. Indeed the Etonian backgrounds of David Cameron and Boris Johnson have reinforced the idea of the Tory party as pretty much the projection of whatever is left of the British elite. The most successful Conservative politician of the second half of the 20th century, Margaret Thatcher, is the rare case of a Tory with a middle class background who was a social outsider in her own party (of course, the first woman prime minister of her country). But Thatcher, so most people think, was definitely one of a kind.
Wooldridge however thinks differently:
The candidates for the Conservative Party leadership are strikingly diverse. Six of the 10 declared candidates are members of ethnic minorities; three (Suella Braverman, Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid) are the children of immigrants; two (Nadhim Zahawi and Rehman Chisti) were born abroad, in Iraq and Pakistan respectively; and one (Kemi Badenoch) was brought up in Nigeria. Four are female. Only two are White men.
The Conservative Party has done a much better job of diversifying than other parts of the British establishment, which has focused instead on the politically correct trappings of rainbow flags and diversity courses.
How did this extraordinary revolution come about? The Tories grasped the enormous power of “sponsored mobility” — that is, spotting potential superstars when they are still young and promoting them rapidly through the party ranks. The Labour Party should have far more potential ethnic minority leadership candidates than the Conservatives, given that Labour won some 62% of that demographic at the most recent election compared with the Conservatives’ 24%. But Labour relies on talent bubbling up on its own rather than being given a helping hand. The result is that many Labour minority MPs are unimpressive machine politicians and a few are self-dealers. Labour’s leader, deputy leader and shadow chancellor are all White.
The Tory breakthrough came in 2005. David Cameron came up with the idea of the party’s central office nominating A-list candidates for local districts to consider. That preserved the constituencies’ much-prized sovereignty but forced them to consider people different from the White men they’d traditionally favored.
It is an interesting and thought-provoking piece. Broadly speaking, as Wooldridge point out, it would be important for political parties to represent minorities without appealing to a rhetoric of victimhood. This goes together with having representatives who claim to be “success stories” in their countries, and aim to speak for those like them. I don’t know how many of these people are attracted by politics and political parties in the West at the moment. But somehow the Tory party did it.