If Britain is a Meritocracy, Then Meritocracy is a Myth

When meritocracy defines itself based on the principles that people, or in this case the government, are selected according to merit, who are we to delineate the Conservative party as worthy?

According to dictionary.com, meritocracies are “an elite group of people whose progress is based on ability and talent rather than on class, privilege, or wealth”. But are we assuming that ability and opportunities to utilise talent are not dependent on the opportunities offered to us? In order for people to progress and promote their abilities, they must be provided with equal opportunities. Given that Britain is not wholly equal, and a social hierarchy remains evident, it would be wrong to say Britain is a meritocracy.


Meritocracy seems to be more of a social construct – one that we wish to be true but subconsciously know is not. Social status, class, and privilege have always affected the opportunities available to us. In an instance where equal rights, equal access and equity could occur, then yes, we may make some progress towards the ideology. However, with unfair opportunities determining one’s success, there is currently too little of a chance to do this.


If efforts measure achievements, then why is there still a social hierarchy? If anything, being given equal opportunities would allow for society to view its peers on a coequal level wherein individuals could achieve things fit to their merit. Therefore, this “elite group” may become a possibility.


Photo by Nick Kane on Unsplash


Meritocracy vs. Nepotism


As defined by Wikipedia, Nepotism is “a form of favouritism granted to relatives and friends in various fields”. Cambridge Dictionary further defines the ideology as “the act of using your power or influence to get good jobs or unfair advantages for members of your own family”. We all know that nepotism exists, and we all know that it is rarely based on “ability and talent” (see: Carrie Symonds offered a £100k role by husband Boris Johnson; Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner offered advisory roles through her father, President Donald Trump; and many more across global governments).


As nepotism is based on kinship, the line is often blurred between what is and is not acceptable. Kinship is a discipline regarding relationships – though it is often debated as to whether this is through familial routes or characteristics. Therefore, predicaments arise when believing that your friend, or academic peer, has the potential to succeed and benefit your place of work. By referring them for the role, instead of outright offering it based on wanting to simply work alongside them, are you favouring them?


Institutions and their lack of meritocracy


The Royals are the best example of a family built on hereditary aristocracy (the opposite of meritocracy). Those who marry into the family are ridiculed, whether for their race, expected gold-digging or events that seem shocking compared to the gold royal standard (e.g. being photographed in a nightclub). The lottery of birth has only determined the outdated standard of the royal family.


For most of the Conservative governments’ cabinet members, wealth, social status and educational advantage have played a significant role in their success. From an outsider’s perspective, their fortune is predetermined and an apparent fair compensation for the lifestyle their upbringing has gifted them with - not the result of determined efforts.


The act of applying for jobs is seemingly guided by meritocracy theory. The overall application process is a competition for who can input the most applicable and relevant experience. But the process becomes unjust when those accomplishments have been handed to applicants favoured through socioeconomics and status. Individuals who have suffered financial hardship from childhood will not have the same possibilities as those with financial freedom. Likewise, progression to interview stages and assessment centres highly depends on the equal rights individuals have had to reach that point.


Furthermore, it must not be forgotten that determiners such as the colour of your skin, heritage, and gender are all suppressed factors in one’s progress. Whilst the government wish to state that “institutional racism doesn’t exist”, there would not be an increase in calls for diversity hiring schemes if it didn’t.


Whilst meritocracy characterises a more committed performance; we cannot forget that progress largely correlates with opportunity. As an ideology, it simply does not exist. Until inequality, a fundamental issue for human development, lessens, access to the same provisions, opportunities, and freedoms are not available. Therefore, meritocracy is a myth.


Katie Mortimer