**If the United States of America was made up wholly of white males, there probably would have been a very different result in the presidential election on election night. However, this is obviously not the case. Everyone knew that Mitt Romney would not struggle with the white male vote, it was with everyone else that he had a problem. The USA is an incredibly diverse nation, and it feels somehow right that they are represented by a diverse president: Barack Obama, an African-American with Kenyan and English ancestry, born in Hawaii. **
At the time of writing, the statistics for which social groups voted for which candidate have yet to be published. But I’m willing to bet that, just as in 2008, Obama received mass support from minority groups. There will be a few exceptions to this rule, like the descendants of Republican Cubans who fled Fidel Castro’s communist regime.
However, in most cases, minorities would have voted for Obama because they believed him more likely to give them a voice and fairer representation, something they see as lacking from Republicans.
When we consider Britain’s own government, it is immediately noticeable that there is a distinct diversity deficit. Indeed, the closest this Coalition cabinet has probably gotten to diversity is when they all went on a group trip to see the Britain’s Got Talent live tour.
The cabinet consists of 22 individuals, only four of which are women, and none of which represent the various ethnic groups of which Britain now consists. And if this isn’t enough, in the expanded cabinet, only Baroness Warsi is definitively non-Caucasian.
This government has, then, a somewhat justified stereotype as a bunch of white, upper-class toffs. This is not to say that the Labour Party in 2012 is completely innocent either, even if there is a greater deal of diversity within the shadow cabinet. There seems to be a serious lack of representation amongst the leading British political parties. This is especially worrying when you consider the lingering presence of parties like the BNP.
Why is there such a lack of representation? Some people blame the political system, saying that it favours the old Etonians, the Oxbridge educated. I find this an inadequate explanation though, that tends to be spouted off by those who accuse the vague ‘system’ of all of the ills of Britain.
Can you think of any instiutions in Britain where there is representation proportional to the country at large? I certainly can’t. I’m in no way suggesting this is a problem unique to Britain, but if we want to be seen as a leading, socially progressive nation, we need to take strides forward in making our society more even. When the cabinet looks like a gentlemen’s club from the 1930s, that’s not particularly progressive.
This is especially important in the political sphere, where people are easily disillusioned with politics if they feel unrepresented. People want that feeling that their voice is being heard. This is something Obama achieves, which Britain does not.
When all the political candidates in the UK seem to come from exactly the same background, the amount of choice people feel they have is reduced and this can only lead to disillusionment.
The only change that will work is widespread change. The political system isn’t itself flawed; it’s people’s mindsets and wider society as a whole. Britain lacks, as a nation, the notion that you can achieve anything politically, and we perceive politics as the domain of the white upper class. We need to encourage a shift away from this self-perpetuating perception.
Education is the other important way through which we can change society: if the standard of education is raised, so there isn’t such a gap between state and private education, a wider variety of individuals will be able to enter the world of politics. Not to mention other professions. Maybe then we can find our own Obama and finally have a voice for the voiceless in government.