A political aristocracy?

Lord Norton
Son of a Presdient, grandson of a Senator
Son of a President, grandson of a Senator

My quiz question on the US Presidency attracted attention not only from readers in this country but also in the USA.  One US blog raised the question of whether the dominance of the names of Nixon and Bush on presidential tickets meant that the US was acquiring a political aristocracy.  As one contributor to that blog pointed out, there was only one Nixon.  However, George W. Bush is the son of a former President and grandson of a distinguished Senator; his brother has also been a Governor.  There are other wealthy families that have been active in US politics at different levels, not least the Kennedys and the Rockefellers.  Various critics claim that Joe Kennedy bought the presidency for his son John. 

While there is an element of dynastic influence in US politics, assisted by family wealth, it raises an interesting question as to whether such dynastic impact has declined in the UK.  Wealthy families can no longer use their wealth to buy their way into politics in the way that was possible in the 19th Century and, to a lesser extent, in the first half of the 20th.  
If there is still a political aristocracy in the UK, it arguably derives more from inherited family interest in politics than from inherited wealth.  We see sons of MPs or former MPs enter politics.  Hilary Benn is the son of one former Cabinet minister and grandson of another.   So too is Douglas Hogg.  There is a mother (widow of an MP) and son in the Commons.  There are some peers who used to be MPs, such as Lord Hurd and Lord Jenkin, whose sons are now MPs.  However, with one or two possible exceptions (such as Nicholas Soames and Michael Ancram) , there are no MPs who are scions of the great families.   In the Lords, the Marquess of Salisbury is on leave of absence.  The House of Lords is now a House of experience and expertise rather than a House of the great aristocrats.
Have I missed anyone?  Or is it the case that political aristocracies based on wealth are now features of the USA but not the United Kingdom?

11 comments for “A political aristocracy?

  1. 04/11/2008 at 7:12 pm

    They came close to having a second President Clinton too!

    I’ve always thought the US shows the merits of having a monarchy rather than an elected head of state. They still have their own royalty, yet still have elections which are all about personalities and money. Thank goodness our Royal Family is above all that!

    Isn’t it the case that our upper house has members who are called Lords, but that’s largely to maintain the tradition. It’s America that is ruled by a real aristocracy.

  2. howridiculous
    05/11/2008 at 8:51 am

    Dear Lord Norton,

    Aren’t there also an uncle and niece in the Lords?


  3. lordnorton
    05/11/2008 at 9:00 am

    howridiculous: There is (Baroness Morris of Yardley and Lord Morris on Manchester), both former MPs. There has also been a father and daughter (Lord Callaghan and Baroness Jay). There are also other family connections, including a number of husband and wife teams. However, the number of peers related to one another has declined considerably as a result of the removal of most hereditary peers. References to ‘my noble kinsman’ are not heard so much in the chamber nowadays. As I mentioned in an earlier post, relative to their numbers in each House, the hereditary peers sitting in the Commons (all three of them) are now grander than the peers sitting in the Lords. In the Commons, there is no one below the rank of Viscount!

  4. howridiculous
    05/11/2008 at 10:32 am

    Dear Lord Norton,

    Perhaps the only good consequence of the expulsion of the bulk of the hereditaries is that we could well in future have another hereditary peer as Prime Minister! Hooray!


  5. James
    05/11/2008 at 12:36 pm

    Lord Norton: Who is the mother and son at the moment? I knew Ann Cryer, widow of Bob Cryer, is still an MP and crossed over with her son, John Cryer, but I thought he left in 2005.

  6. Adrian Kidney
    05/11/2008 at 1:06 pm

    howridiculous: I had not considered that, and the prospect amuses me. I doubt it would happen though, considering the extensive reverse-class-bigotry in this country, as demonstrated in the Crewe & Nantwich by-election.

  7. 05/11/2008 at 2:08 pm

    Have I missed anyone?

    Sort of. She’s sprung from a branch of the family that doesn’t seem to have been politically active in recent generations, but Theresa Villiers undoubtedly comes from proper politicial aristocracy: there truckloads of MPs, ministers and so on through the Earls of Clarenden.

  8. howridiculous
    05/11/2008 at 4:23 pm

    Dear Adrian – if I may,

    I have considered nothing else since 1999! And it would amuse me intensely! I take heart from Crewe and Nantwich that electors had no truck with the ridiculous campaign against Mr Timson’s background. And how ironic to run such a campaign when the Labour candidate was dyed in the wool political aristocracy!


  9. Horse N. Buggy
    05/11/2008 at 8:56 pm

    Y’all are funny. I think this is my new favorite blog. 🙂 Do I have to extend my pinky finger while I type my comments?

  10. Bedd Gelert
    06/11/2008 at 10:35 am

    Horse N. Buggy – Welcome aboard !! Nope, all are welcome. I am a Welsh working class canine who has been dead for many years [which can make typing very tricky sometimes] and I get along just fine..

    Spread the word – and come and pay us a visit sometime as I think there is a new mood of detente and perestroika abroad, so ‘catch it while you can’ !

  11. lordnorton
    06/11/2008 at 11:39 am

    Anthony Wells: Theresa Villiers does indeed count in the same class as Michael Ancram, in terms of coming from a aristocratic family with historic political connections, though she in many respects represents a reintroduction of the Villiers family into politics. There has not been a continuous involvement. There are other MPs whose forebears have been MPs: Geoffrey Clifton-Brown for example.

    Howridiculous: It is indeed possible that a hereditary peer may become Prime Minister. Two of the three hereditary peers sitting in the Commons have, of course, been ministers and one served as deputy leader of the Conservative Party. Legally, the Queen can send for whoever she wishes to invite to be Prime Minister, so formally she could send for an hereditary peer presently sitting in the Lords. Politically, that is not feasible – one cannot recreate the situation of the Earl of Home in 1963 since no member of the House can now renounce his or her title. (Life peers cannot do so and the hereditary peers are outside the period in which they could choose to renounce.) However, if more hereditary peers excluded from the Lords are elected to the Commons, then in the fullness of time one may be called to the Palace.

    James: You are quite right. It should have been in the past tense: the son left at the last election and the mother is leaving at the next.

    Horse N. Buggy: you are free to extend your pinky finger when typing, though if you did it in the Lords you may get a few strange looks. We are usually too busy struggling to keep up with a mass of correspondence to worry about such niceties. We are a fairly practical bunch who just get on with our work in a straightforward way.

Comments are closed.