Just one in 100 Tory MPs came from a working-class job, new study shows

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The Guardian

Only about 1% of the current crop of Tory MPs entered parliament from a working-class job, according to new research that suggests a growing “representation gap” in parliament.

Just 7% of all MPs can be considered “working class”, compared with 34% of all UK working-age adults. While 13% of Labour MPs joined parliament from a working-class occupation, the proportion has halved since the 1980s.

The analysis, by researchers of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), comes as both parties go through the process of selecting candidates for the next election. The proportion of British people who are working class has also fallen, but the decline among MPs has been twice as fast.

The paper is the third in a series, in collaboration with the Observer, examining the steep decline in trust in politics and how it can be addressed. Previous studies have found that working-class representatives are more likely to support action to tackle economic inequality and support more redistributive policies.

The proportion of Conservative MPs with working-class job backgrounds has been well below 5% for at least the past 50 years. However, 28% of Labour MPs came from working-class jobs after the 1987 election – the proportion has since halved.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, called for cross-party action to improve access. “When I first went into parliament it was like going into Hogwarts,” she said. “It can be intimidating to think of all the people who have stood at the dispatch box before me, as well as mixing with people from huge wealth, privilege and with expensive education.

“Those working in insecure or low-paid jobs are less likely to have an employer who will give them flexibility or to be able to afford to take time off work. Putting yourself forward for public life is not only daunting, it can be a big commitment in time and money that is inaccessible for many. We need a genuine cross-party discussion about how we can enhance participation in our democracy, and give ordinary people who are juggling inflexible work with other commitments more opportunities and support to run for office.”

The IPPR identified two main factors driving the decline. It pointed to the fact that trade unions were no longer as able as they were in the past to provide a route into politics for working-class candidates. Second, so much time and money is now required to become a political candidate that it has become “an insurmountable obstacle” for some interested in pursuing a career as an MP. It said there was effectively a “class ceiling”.

To analyse the class breakdown of parliament, researchers compared the number of MPs who entered Westminster directly from an occupation regarded as working class with the population at large in the same types of posts. The survey was based on an anonymised sample of MPs. It used an established academic definition of “working class”.

A Conservative spokesman said that the study underestimated the diversity within the current crop of Conservative MPs. “This report appears to apply an incredibly narrow definition of working class by only considering an MP’s job immediately before entering parliament,” he said. “That means, for example, a Conservative MP who was a coal miner for 10 years and went on to other work is excluded from these figures.

“The 2019 intake of Conservative MPs was our most diverse ever and helped us win seats right across the country and an 80-seat majority, as the party of working people. The Conservative Party Foundation funds a £250,000 bursary scheme to support candidates.”

Several other disparities with the population as a whole were uncovered. It found 86% of MPs attended higher education institutions, while only 34% of working-age adults have. Party candidates in 2019 were twice as likely to have voted for Remain compared with voters at large, while 35% of MPs were women – though this was up from 3% in 1979.

IPPR called for all parties to publish the number of working-class candidates they were putting forward and set targets, develop new talent pipelines and invest more in financially supporting candidates, including covering childcare costs. It said there should be a government-backed “right to run” fund and compulsory time off to stand for elected office.

“Too many voters feel that their voice is not heard in British democracy and that they are not represented by the member of parliament sitting in Westminster on their behalf,” said Harry Quilter-Pinner, IPPR’s director of research and engagement. “This is contributing with a decline in trust in politicians and democracy which should worry us all.”

July 24, 2022 at 12:33PM Michael Savage

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