Establishment, the

Establishment, the
   The Establishment embraces the hierarchy of institutions that combine to preserve the established order of society. The concept dates back to Edward I’s Model Parliament (1295) where, for the first time, representatives from outside the high clergy and aristocracy were summoned to parliament. This parliament was generally thought to be the most immediate precursor of modern parliamentary government and included representatives from cities, shires and boroughs throughout England. The established church was incorporated into the English civil establishment after Henry VIII’s institution of the Anglican Church was successful in its attempt to incite middle-class loyalty to the state. More recently, the Establishment concerns the English constitution and the institutions engaged in its protection. At its centre is the relation between the institutions of church and state, and monarchy and parliament. The ancillary institutions are the civil service, the military, the public school system, the City and, latterly, major elements of the British media. All contribute in some way to the preservation of the established order of British social and political control and, to a large extent, continue to be based on upper-class interests. The new social movements of the 1960s and 1970s attempted to challenge the aristocratic and antidemocratic nature of the Establishment.
   The conventions, traditions and institutions constituting the unwritten British constitution have permitted the endurance of a ruling class that continues to play an enormous role in shaping British public and political life. That role has little democratic foundation. The appointment and dismissal of notables within the Establishment has no recourse in public approval, election or even public visibility. As Lord Beaconsfield once remarked, ‘the most powerful men are not public men. The public man is responsible, and the responsible man is a slave. It is private life that governs the world.’ The accuracy of this description continues today. The prime movers controlling the British Establishment constitute a very narrow group of less than five hundred individuals. Some, such as the monarch, the royal family, the Archbishops of Canterbury, York and notable bishops are public figures. Many of great influence are not. These comprise cabinet secretaries, senior civil servants, great families (such as the Salisburys), elder states-men, the Governor of the Bank of England, the Director General of the BBC, the editor of The Times, service chiefs and key officers from the secret services.
   See also: civil service; public schools
   Further reading
    Hennessey, P. (1986) The Great and the Good: An Inquiry into the British Establishment, London: Policy Studies Institute.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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