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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Google’s tax worries, Oxford’s race dilemma and the left-wing case for leaving Europe

The truth is that many black students looking at the white, middle-class Oxford would justifiably conclude that they don’t belong.

As a Gmail user and a Google searcher, am I morally compromised by using the services of a serial tax avoider? Surely not. Google gets roughly 95 per cent of its revenues from advertising and much of that from clicks on the ads that surround its offerings. I have long observed a rule never to click on any of these, even when they advertise something that I need urgently. Instead, I check the seller’s website address and type it directly into my browser.

Taking full advantage of its services without contributing to its profits strikes me as a very good way of damaging the company. More problematic are pharmaceutical companies such as AstraZeneca (zero UK corporation tax in 2014) and GlaxoSmithKline (UK corporation tax undisclosed but it has subsidiaries in tax havens), which makes many prescription drugs and consumer products such as toothpaste – I chew it to stop me smoking. To boycott all such companies, as well as those that underpay their workers or pollute the planet, one would need, more or less, to drop out from the modern world. Consumer boycotts, though they have a certain feel-good factor, aren’t a substitute for electing governments that will make a concerted effort to tax and regulate big corporations.

 

After EU

David Cameron is finding it hard to get changes to EU rules that he can credibly present as concessions. But the talks that would follow a vote for Brexit would be a hundred times more difficult. Ministers would need to negotiate access to the single market, renegotiate trade deals with 60 other countries and make a deal on the status of Britons living in the EU, as well as EU citizens living here. All this would create immense uncertainty for a fragile economy.

With a current-account trade deficit of 4 per cent, the dangers of a run on sterling would be considerable. (This apocalyptic scenario is not mine; I draw on the wisdom of the Financial Times economics editor, Chris Giles.) But here’s the question. If the UK got into the same pickle as Greece – and George Osborne had to do a Norman Lamont, popping out of No 11 periodically to announce interest-rate rises – Jeremy Corbyn would walk the 2020 election. Should we lefties therefore vote Out?

 

University blues

Hardly a Sunday now passes without David Cameron announcing an “initiative”, either on TV or in the newspapers. The latest concerns the under-representation of black Britons at top universities, notably Oxford, which accepted just 27 black students in 2014 out of an intake of more than 2,500. As usual, Cameron’s proposed “action” is risibly inadequate: a requirement that universities publish “transparent” data on admissions and acceptances, much of which is already available, and a call for schools to teach “character”, whatever that means.

The truth is that many black students looking at the white, middle-class Oxford – with its disproportionate numbers from a handful of fee-charging schools, such as Eton – would justifiably conclude that they don’t belong. Cameron rules out quotas as “politically correct, contrived and unfair”. But quotas in some form may be what is needed if young people from poor white, as well as black, homes are ever to feel that they would be more than interlopers.

In the meantime, Cameron could tell elite universities to stop setting ever-higher barriers to entry. As well as demanding two A*s and an A at A-level, Oxford and Cambridge are introducing tests for “thinking skills” and subject-specific “aptitude”. Whatever the developers of such tests claim, it is possible to coach students for them. State schools don’t have the resources to do so or even to research the complex requirements of the various colleges and subjects. Oxbridge admissions tutors must know this but evidently they don’t care.

 

A fine balance

The latest government figures show that, despite the former education secretary Michael Gove introducing £60 fines for parents who take their children on term-time breaks, the days lost to unsanctioned holidays are up by 50 per cent to three million in four years. This was a predictable result. Previously, the sense of an obligation to respect the law and set their children an example of doing so persuaded most parents to confine absences to school holidays. Now a modest price has been placed on term-time holidays. Parents do the sums and note that they save far more than £60 on cheaper flights and hotels.

A similar outcome emerged in Israel when daycare centres introduced fines for parents who arrived late. Previously, most preferred to avoid the embarrassment of apologising to a carer and explaining why they had been delayed. Once it became just a monetary transaction, many more happily arrived late and paid the price.

 

Minority report

Here in Loughton, Essex, where I live quietly and unfashionably, we are dancing in the streets. Well, not quite, but perhaps we ought to be. According to an analysis by the Policy Exchange think tank, Loughton is the third most integrated community in England and Wales, just behind Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands and Amersham, Buckinghamshire, but above 157 others that have significant minorities. We are well ahead of fashionable London boroughs such as Islington and Hackney, where residents obviously keep Muslims and eastern Europeans out of their vibrant dinner parties, whereas we have bearded imams, African chiefs in traditional dress and Romanian gypsies dropping in for tea all the time.

Again, not quite. I’m not sure that I have met that many non-indigenous folk around here, or even seen any, except in the local newsagents. Still, I am grateful to Policy Exchange for brushing up Loughton’s public image, which was in need of a facelift after the BNP won four seats on the council a few years ago and a TOWIE actor opened a shop on the high street.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war