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5 February 2015

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.

By Ashley Cowburn

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.

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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.

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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.”