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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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.