Is politics a meritocracy? Or do connections, family ties, have much more to do with whether someone manages to get ahead?

It’s possible to argue this either way: neither John Major nor Margaret Thatcher came from the sorts of backgrounds that we would normally associate with being a natural part of the ruling classes.

Ross gives us a different way of measuring this. An interestingly different method of measuring this. Assume, first, that there are two sets of possible careers. There are those where talent is obvious: he picks songwriting as an example. The difference between an OK songwriter (Julian Lennon) and a great one (John Lennon) is obvious to all. Sean Lennon might have the genes and the contacts, but not the ability. Then there are those where talent, beyond a vague suitability, doesn’t seem to make much difference. There’s not all that much difference in talent between a jobbing actor (say) and an A list star and from what I can see in fashion design there’s absolutely no difference at all between what is turned out by a global star anointed a Dame and a random run through the fabric samples while covered in glue.

In these careers where talent is hard to discern it becomes networks, contacts, family perhaps, that determines the success or not of the individual.

It would be much too harsh to state that this distinction is always true: only that on average we would expect to see more dynasties in those careers where talent is either not necessary or indistinguishable, as against those where possession of talent is obvious.

So is politics meritocratic in this sense or not? Does family background, that network of contacts, matter perhaps too much?

We’re on our fourth generation of Benns as MPs and our third generation of Benns as Cabinet Ministers. Perhaps politics isn’t as meritocratic as we might wish: or perhaps talent is just too difficult to perceive in this field?

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