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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Mumslink shows how online parenting networks are coming of age

Women online are changing the relationship between digital domesticity and digital independence. 

The habit of “speaking as a mother” came in for its fair share of criticism this summer. Andrea Leadsom’s insinuation of superiority over Theresa May, her rival for the Tory leadership, elicited widespread scorn – not least from those who have done most to strengthen the voice of mothers as a group: internet mums.

Over the past 15 years, the ten million users a month who log on to Mumsnet have been courted by politicians in webchats and speeches alike. The 2010 general election was even named “the Mumsnet election” in their honour.

From the start, parenting networks attracted users interested in comradeship, as much as those after information. 

For Jo Williamson, a mother-of-two, the trigger was the day her second child left for school, a jarring experience. “I went into a blind panic, thinking: ‘Blimey, I’m going to be sitting in an empty house just waiting for everybody to come back.’” In response, Jo and her business partner Jane Pickard came up with the idea for a new site that focuses on the fluid nature of many women’s professional and family lives.

The resulting network, Mumslink, uses carefully edited news feeds to introduce readers to ideas, businesses and charities that complement all aspects of their lives – from recipe tips to volunteering. “There are so many women out there with a plethora of talents but most of the time, because you’re with your children, nobody asks you to get involved,” Williamson says.

Similar feelings of isolation led Siobhan Freegard to found Netmums, one of the UK’s largest parenting sites. Back in 2000, she had barely heard of “social networks”, nor of Mumsnet, which launched around the same time, yet she knew that mothers needed a place “to share their stories and maybe meet up in the offline world, too”.

Such identity-building led to divisions over “the right way” to be a mother. A tense rivalry developed between the slightly younger Netmums and the more educated and affluent Mumsnetters (Tesco and Waitrose didn’t sponsor different networks for nothing). Within the sites’ pages, differences of opinion over working v stay-at-home parenting sparked allegations of hostility and bullying. Still, the media researcher Sarah Pedersen says there’s an argument that these sites have helped produce a reduction in depression and anxiety, as well as greater opportunities for women to negotiate “the tension between themselves and their role as mothers”.

There are signs that this online culture is growing up. The perception of mums as “a bit insular and thick” is more easily countered, says Justine Roberts, the founder of Mumsnet, “now that so many mothers are able to express their individuality, their interests and their expertise in the public domain”.

According to Freegard, the very act of online sharing has helped begin to repair the rifts within the parenting debate. “With social media, we see working mums and part-time mums, and we see mums changing roles as their children change ages, and we understand that there are different angles to things – that everyone has their story.”

This is more pronounced in the world of video blogging, Freegard says. On her YouTube channel, Channel Mum, people talk calmly about controversial subjects that would have been a “bloodbath” on Netmums, such as ear piercing for very young children. “With video, you can see the person in real life and that helps you feel for their story,” she says.

Perhaps the greatest effect, however, has been on how the internet allows parents to work from home. As many as 160,000 part-time ventures have been started by British women in the past two years alone, self-styled kitchen-table start-ups. Sites such as Mumslink (similarly funded by Williamson and Pickard and run out of the former’s front room in Hertfordshire) aim to help this home-based workforce with new clients. One Mumslinker visits the site to write about her own line of natural nail varnish, another to promote her hot-tub business. The company Digital Mums uses it to encourage women to expand their digital skills.

Commercial savvy is something that Freegard is also keen to develop at Channel Mum – equipping her contributors with financial advice and small stipends. “I remember looking at mummy bloggers and thinking, ‘You guys didn’t get properly organised,’” she says. Freegard points out that most early mum bloggers never grew their audience beyond those already involved in parenting online, and struggled to become more professional as a result.

Quite what the future relationships will be between the brands, businesses and audiences for information on parenting has yet to be established. Some users will baulk at being increasingly cast in the role of consumer. At the same time, the networks’ names – Mumsnet, Netmums, Mumslink, Channel Mum – suggest that parenting is still a woman’s domain.

Yet a better balance seems to be emerging in the relationship between digital domesticity and digital independence. Greater gender equality in the distribution of start-up funding, more job vacancies that allow flexible working, and increasing numbers of prominent women in the tech industry are just some of the things the community is striving to promote. In Britain, which has an ageing population and an ever-growing community of carers, the rise of these networks seems sure to be a net gain for us all. 

For more, visit: mumslink.com

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser