Heliophage


Not in my Oxbridge name…
May 30, 2010, 6:13 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Reading Sarfraz Mansoor’s review of Gary Younge’s “Who are we” over coffee this morning I was struck (and who wouldn’t be) by the sentence

Of the 23 members of the new cabinet, 22 are white, 18 are millionaires, 15 are Oxbridge graduates and 13 went to private schools.

Which really is pretty disheartening. But it also piqued my slight irritation, because I tend to bridle somewhat at “Oxbridge” as a category (non UK readers: Oxbridge is a portmanteau word denoting the universities of Oxford and Cambridge). There are obviously great structural similarities between Oxford and Cambridge, as well as architectural ones and social ones. I remember that the first time I ever visited Oxford, having spent three years as a student at Cambridge, I had the odd feeling that someone had taken a townscape I was at home in, shuffled it, and redealt it  in an odd new pattern. But there are also distinctions, and though I’ll admit that the narcissism of small difference (my absolutely favourite Freudian concept, and one of the great undervalued explicators of life) magnifies them, they may matter. While the variation within both universities is far greater than the difference between their means, from my utterly subjective view point Oxford tends more towards the worldly, the glib, the rosy, the rhetorical, Cambridge to the provincial, the constrained, the cold, the logical.

Linked in my mind to these prejudiced distinctions is the notion that, as well as being more conservative than Cambridge, Oxford is also more central to the political establishment. Evidence: all the UK’s university-educated post-1945 prime ministers had degrees from Oxford (a second degree in the case of Gordon Brown), none had degrees from Cambridge. (Less impressive evidence: I remember a nice joke in Yes Minister about the Oxford preponderance explaining its transport links, though on checking I find that’s actually rather more a joke about civil servants).

So, cappuccino finished, I decided to test out my hunch that the cabinet was in fact dominated not by Oxbridge, but by Oxford. Unfortunately, not so much. Of the 65% of the cabinet that went to Oxbridge 6 are from Cambridge, 9 from Oxford, a 40:60 split. A preponderance, yes, but not a significant one (one-tail p-value 0.30). Expand the universe to include the six people who, while not cabinet ministers, attend, or may attend, cabinet and you find that of 29 people 20 (69%) went to Oxbridge, 8 to Cambridge, 12 to Oxford — 40:60 again, p-value now down to 0.25.

Then it struck me that the problem might be that the Lib Dems in the cabinet were masking a true Tory Oxfordness. Superficially plausible, in that of the 5 Lib Dems in cabinet proper, all of whom went to Oxbridge (and all but one of whom were privately educated), the ratio is reversed, 60:40 in Cambridge’s favour. If a fully Tory cabinet replaced them with 5 Oxford graduates, the p-value would fall to 0.06. Alas, assuming they would be replaced only from Oxford stretches plausibility. In fact if you assume, following James Forsyth on the Spectator’s blog, that the Tories who were denied true cabinet seats by the advent of the Lib Dems are David Willets, Chris Grayling, Theresa Villiers, Greg Clark and Nick Herbert, you find that that quintet is also, as it happens, 60:40 Cantab.

Since I started writing this, the resignation of David Laws has slightly pushed things further against Cambridge. The Oxbridge subset of the cabinet is now 36:64 Oxford, p value 0.21. (The Scottish Lib Dems, from among whose ranks the new Scottish seccretary had to be chosen, are a decidedly un-Oxbridge lot.) Of the 7 people attending cabinet from Cambridge, two of them, Francis Maude and Owen Patterson, went to my college, Corpus Christi. Corpus is one of the smallest of the 20 odd colleges, so that is a truly striking result.

No one in the cabinet, alas, went to Hull. (Though one is, to my previously ill educated surprise, a former member of the NUM.)

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2 Comments so far
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Interesting read but surely the sample size is too small to draw any meaningful statistical conclusions from?

Comment by Michael Medley

Hence the disappointing p values.

Comment by Oliver




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