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

ELLIE FOREMAN-PECK FOR NEW STATESMAN
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Craig Oliver, Cameron's attack dog, finally bites

A new book reveals the spiteful after life of Downing Street's unlikely spin doctor.

It must be hard being a spin doctor: always in the shadows but always on-message. The murky control that the role requires might explain why David Cameron’s former director of communications Craig Oliver has rushed out his political memoirs so soon after his boss left Downing Street. Now that he has been freed from the shackles of power, Oliver has chosen to expose the bitterness that lingers among those on the losing side in the EU referendum.

The book, which is aptly titled Unleashing Demons, made headlines with its revelation that Cameron felt “badly let down” by Theresa May during the campaign, and that some in the Remain camp regarded the then home secretary as an “enemy agent”. It makes for gripping reading – yet seems uncharacteristically provocative in style for a man who eschewed the sweary spin doctor stereotype, instead advising Cameron to “be Zen” while Tory civil war raged during the Brexit campaign.

It may be not only politicians who find the book a tough read. Oliver’s visceral account of his side’s defeat on 24 June includes a description of how he staggered in a daze down Whitehall until he retched “harder than I have done in my life. Nothing comes up. I retch again – so hard, it feels as if I’ll turn inside out.”

It’s easy to see why losing hit Oliver – who was knighted in Cameron’s resignation honours list – so hard. Arguably, this was the first time the 47-year-old father-of-three had ever failed at anything. The son of a former police chief constable, he grew up in Scotland, went to a state school and studied English at St Andrews University. He then became a broadcast journalist, holding senior posts at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

When the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned as No 10’s communications director in January 2011 because of unceasing references in the press to his alleged involvement in the phone-hacking scandal, Oliver was not the obvious replacement. But he was seen as a scandal-free BBC pen-pusher who exuded calm authority, and that won him the job. The Cameron administration, tainted by its association with the Murdoch media empire, needed somebody uncontroversial who could blend into the background.

It wasn’t just Oliver’s relative blandness that recommended him. At the BBC, he had made his name revamping the corporation’s flagship News at Ten by identifying the news angles that would resonate with Middle England. The Conservatives then put this skill to very good use during their 2015 election campaign. His broadcast expertise also qualified him to sharpen up the then prime minister’s image.

Oliver’s own sense of style, however, was widely ridiculed when he showed up for his first week at Downing Street looking every inch the metropolitan media male with a trendy man bag and expensive Beats by Dre headphones, iPad in hand.

His apparent lack of political affiliation caused a stir at Westminster. Political hacks were perplexed by his anti-spin attitude. His style was the antithesis of the attack-dog mode popularised by Alastair Campbell and Damian McBride in the New Labour years. As Robert Peston told the Daily Mail: “Despite working closely with Oliver for three years, I had no clue about his politics or that he was interested in politics.” Five years on, critics still cast aspersions and question his commitment to the Conservative cause.

Oliver survived despite early wobbles. The most sinister of these was the allegation that in 2012 he tried to prevent the Daily Telegraph publishing a story about expenses claimed by the then culture secretary, Maria Miller, using her links to the Leveson inquiry as leverage – an accusation that Downing Street denied. Nevertheless, he became indispensable to Cameron, one of a handful of trusted advisers always at the prime minister’s side.

Newspapers grumbled about Oliver’s preference for broadcast and social media over print. “He’s made it clear he [Oliver] doesn’t give a s*** about us, so I don’t really give a s*** about him,” a veteran correspondent from a national newspaper told Politico.

Yet that approach was why he was hired. There was the occasional gaffe, including the clumsy shot of a stern-looking Cameron, apparently on the phone to President Obama discussing Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, which was widely mocked on Twitter. But overall, reducing Downing Street’s dependence on print media worked: Scotland voted against independence in 2014 and the Tories won a majority in the 2015 general election.

Then came Brexit, a blow to the whole Cameroon inner circle. In his rush to set the record straight and defend Cameron’s legacy – as well as his own – Oliver has finally broken free of the toned-down, straight-guy persona he perfected in power. His memoir is spiteful and melodramatic, like something straight from the mouth of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. Perhaps, with this vengeful encore to his mild political career, the unlikely spin doctor has finally fulfilled his potential. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories