“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