Westminster, according to De Piero, is a closed shop to women, ethnic minorities, and working class people. Photo: Getty
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Gloria De Piero MP on social mobility: "parliament still operates like a closed shop"

As the news emerged today that Britain remains deeply elitist, the shadow women and equalities minister discusses her own experience, and how Labour can boost social mobility.

"Britain remains deeply elitist". That's the conclusion Labour’s Alan Milburn and the Social Mobility Commission have arrived at after analysing over 4,000 leadership roles.

For all the progress we’ve made, it’s still the case that the best pathway in public life is to be white, male and from a private school. And that’s the case at the top table of politics too. There are more privately educated members of David Cameron’s cabinet than women; just 7 per cent of the population go to private school – women make up over 50 per cent of the country.
 
But just look at the pool he has to choose from - over half of Tory MPs and 41 per cent of Lib Dems went to private school, whilst both parties are over three quarters male.

This is a problem for politics just as it’s a problem across the whole of society, not because people from private school shouldn’t get good jobs, but because at the moment no one else seems to be getting a look-in.
 
I was the first in my family to go to university, but even with a good degree I couldn’t get a job in politics when I first graduated. The reality is, this place still operates like a closed shop - to people from working-class backgrounds, to women, to ethnic minorities. It’s unfair and it’s bad for politics because if parliament doesn’t look or sound like Britain, it can’t hope to understand and address the concerns of the whole country rather than just the privileged few.
 
The Labour party is the Party of working people. We have more women and more ethnic minority MPs than all other Parties combined. But when the number of MPs who’ve come from manual jobs has plummeted from one sixth to just four per cent in the last forty years we all need to do more to build a representative politics.
 
Over the last year I’ve been travelling around the country meeting women from many different backgrounds, jobs and perspectives to find out what women in Britain want from their politicians, and what would change their lives for the better. On one of these trips I met a woman called Tracey. Tracey, who works in Morrisons, told me she hadn't voted for years because she'd lost faith in politics - but when I asked the group of supermarket workers I was talking to if anyone would consider becoming an MP, Tracey was the first to put her hand up. There are people like Tracey everywhere.
 
Tracey cares passionately about her community, she stands up for her colleagues at work through membership of a trade union and she'd make a great MP. But until we build the routes in to politics for women like Tracey, it will remain an elitist affair.
 
Ed Miliband’s Party reforms are central to this. Rebuilding the link between trade union members and our Party is how we provide a route in for women like Tracey, and strengthen our links with working people. And for the first time we’re going to give people who register their support for the Party but aren’t members a say in who our Party leader is and our policy too. Many people might not be joiners of political parties but as a first step into politics which doesn’t cost anything, the people who are signing up now could be the councillors and MPs of tomorrow – it’s a great way to dip your toe in the water.
 
We've launched a future candidates programme too, to mentor the next generation of politicians from backgrounds we don’t see enough of in Westminster. And looking at the group of candidates we have standing at the next election gives me cause for hope. People like Lee Sheriff in Carlisle who worked in Jaeger on the shop floor and Lisa Forbes in Peterborough, who’s a school governor and Amina Lone in Morcambe, a single mum and running an organisation to tackle poverty in her local community, all voices Westminster will be a better place for having.
 
At the very heart of Labour's vision is enabling people to be the best that they can be - talent has to be the only thing that matters when it comes to getting to the top. And that’s not just true for politics - it matters in the law, journalism, medicine. It matters in all of our professions and the Labour party will never forget it.

Gloria De Piero is Labour MP for Ashfield and shadow women and equalities minister

Gloria De Piero is Labour MP for Ashfield. 

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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