New crop of MPs unlikely to be anymore socially diverse Photo: Getty/ Christopher Furlong
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Old boys’ club will continue their reign into the next Parliament

According to the research by the Sutton Trust, 31 per cent of parliamentary candidates attended private school, compared with 7 per cent of the population.

Almost a third of new parliamentary candidates with a reasonable chance of winning their seat in the general election were privately educated, according to new research by an educational charity.

The report by the Sutton Trust, Parliamentary Privilege, analysed the educational and professional backgrounds of 260 parliamentary candidates, and found that they are “unlikely to reflect any more social diversity than the current crop of MPs.”

According to the research 31 per cent of parliamentary candidates attended private school, compared with 7 per cent of the population; 19 per cent graduated from Oxbridge, compared with one per cent of the population. Worryingly, the number of Labour candidates in winnable seats among the new intake who are privately educated – 19 per cent – is almost double the number of privately educated Labour MPs, at ten per cent.

Interestingly, the eurosceptic party, Ukip, is less likely than Labour or the Conservatives to have prospective candidates standing in the general election that have attended university or had a professional career. In Selina Todd’s examination of what she calls “the rise and fall” of the working class, she suggests that Ukip palpably feed off “left behind” working-class disenchantment with the established political elite. It is to no surprise then that Ukip attracts working-class support.

Around half – 49 per cent – of Conservative candidates were privately educated. The current crop of Tory MPs stands at 52 per cent. But the Tories too, are self-conscious about their image as an old boys’ club: in January the party launched the “Party of Opportunity” campaign, alongside a booklet designed to promote the working-class credentials of some of its MPs. According to Buzzfeed, Patrick McLoughlin, a former miner at Littleton Colliery in the West Midlands, insisted his fellow workers were “far more right-wing than I was… they just voted for Labour because they always had done.” Having an increased presence of working-class politicians in parliament’s corridors could have saved the Conservative party from a patronising advert highlighting the changes to beer and bingo taxes.

If you have politicians sharing the same life experiences and the same elite education – divorced from the opinions of ordinary people – how can they be expected to represent those working on zero hour contracts; those who have had their benefits sanctioned for being late to an appointment; or those young people who feel they are unable to continue with education because of the lack of maintenance grants available. My mother – a cleaner for the NHS – often expressed to me that it wasn’t an apathy that fuelled her distaste in politics; rather it was the fact that she couldn’t connect with a single member of the political elite. And with all three party leaders from relatively privileged backgrounds, the issue of social mobility within the upper echelons of Westminster needs to be seriously addressed over the course of the next parliament.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said today: “This research shows that the next House of Commons is unlikely to reflect any more social diversity than the current crop of MPs.

“It underlines the importance of enabling bright young people from low and middle income backgrounds to get to the best schools and universities if they have a chance to play a part in making the decisions that affect all of our lives.”

 

 

Ashley Cowburn writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2014. He tweets @ashcowburn

 

 

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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.