Bishops and the elite

By Jonathan Bartley
January 20, 2010

Update 21st Jan: A few people have been in touch saying they would be interested to know how many bishops in the Lords went to public schools. According to the 2005 Sutton Trust report, 60% attended independent schools.


I have just been doing a bit of preparation ahead of next week’s debate in Parliament with Polly Toynbee, the Bishop of Leicester Tim Stevens and Baroness Butler-Sloss (David Aaronovitch chairing). (more here:

During my research, I came across a very interesting suggestion which I have sometimes heard elsewhere, that bishops are in some respects the "peoples’ champions" in the House of Lords, challenging a political elite.

Theos for example, has suggested that the speeches and votes of bishops “tend to reflect the interests of the poor and the marginalised, rather than the rich, the elite or the influential.”

Putting aside the palaces that they inhabit, looking at their track record, I am not entirely convinced. But it should be acknowledged that their intentions are often noble and they do often (like many of their colleagues) raise issues that directly affect the vulnerable.

It is the extent to which they are (or are not) part of an elite though that interested me. So I thought it would be interesting to do a quick analysis using one indicator which is often used - whether they are Oxbridge educated.

The Sutton Trust undertook a study of Parliament in 2005. It found that just over a quarter of MPs went to Oxbridge (59% of Tories). In the Lords, the overall figure of Oxbridge attendance was around 40% (much lower than I expected) rising to 49% for Conservatives. "These findings are symptomatic...of the educational apartheid which blights our system" they concluded.

So how do bishops measure up? Tories eat your heart out! 19 out of the 26 bishops in the Lords (73%) attended Oxbridge Colleges.

Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, Christ's College, Cambridge,

John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, Selwyn College, Cambridge

Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, Trinity Cambridge

Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham, Exeter College, Oxford,

Michael Scott-Joynt, Bishop of Winchester, King’s College, Cambridge

Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark, University of Leeds,

Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Manchester, Selwyn College Cambridge

David Stancliffe, Bishop of Salisbury, Trinity College, Oxford,

Peter Forster, Bishop of Chester, Merton College, Oxford

John Wharton, Bishop of Newcastle, Linacre College, Oxford,

James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.

Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester, Selwyn College, Cambridge

Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, Oxford

Michael Langrish, Bishop of Exeter, Fitzwilliam College,

John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds. Keble College, Oxford

Anthony Russell, Bishop of Ely, Trinity College Oxford

John Hind, Bishop of Chichester, Leeds University

John Saxbee, Bishop of Lincoln, University of Bristol

Peter Price, Bishop of Bath and Walls, Redland College of Education Bristol

David James, Bishop of Bradford, Exeter University

Stephen Platten, Bishop of Wakefield, Trinity College, Oxford

Michael Hill, Bishop of Bristol, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge

Jonathan Gledhill, Bishop of Lichfield, Keele and Bristol

Nicholas Reade, Bishop of Blackburn, University of Leeds

Anthony Priddis, Bishop of Hereford, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, New College, Oxford

Michael Perham, Bishop of Gloucester, Keble College, Oxford

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