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Only more working class MPs will save Labour from timidity

MPs herded blindfolded through the lobbiesWhy hasn’t Labour’s social team raised a huge hue and cry against Osborne’s openly declared intention to introduce a cap next year on total welfare spending covering about £100bn of benefits, irrespective of the massive increase in destitution brought about by his very own policies? Why hasn’t Labour’s economic team raised an equal cry of anger against Osborne’s plans for a £180bn deficit reduction by 2018, which would bring public spending to its lowest ebb as a share of GDP since 1948?

Partly it reflects Labour’s extraordinary caution and timidity which only encourages the Tories to go even faster and further in marauding all over Labour’s territory. But partly it exposes the lack of political will in some sections of the Labour leadership which has now reached frightening levels: if they won’t baulk at the massive shrinking of the State and the steady elimination of the public sector, when will they ever turn and fight? And the real problem is that this is a view not just held by insiders, but very widely across the country, by friends and foes alike. But there is another reason too.

That is the virtual collapse of working class representation in the Parliamentary Labour Party. This is being brought home today by a careful analysis by, of all sources, the right-wing Policy Exchange, which is reputed to be Cameron’s favourite think-tank. They found that whilst there were 98 former manual workers in Parliament as recently as 1979, the number had shrunk by three-quarters to a mere 25 now. This precipitate decline from 16 per cent to just three per cent today within three decades has occurred despite the fact that a majority of the population – 61% according to the British Social Attitudes Survey – characterise themselves in this way. Even among Labour, traditionally the working class party, the proportion of working class MPs fell: from 37 per cent in 1951, to 13 per cent in 1997, and thence to just five per cent now.

Does it matter? As we see today in the failure to defend working class interests, it matters hugely. The career politicians, reared on student politics and then working as special advisers to become MPs, come from a different culture and a very different set of values from their predecessors. So what should be done? The Equalities Act of 2010 laid down that certain factors should be protected – particularly gender, race and disability – but no mention was made of class or, as the academics say, socio-economic background. This is remarkable when the deficit in British public life of working class representatives, not only in politics but on the magistrates’ bench and public sector boards, is far great than the deficits in respect of women and ethnic minorities.

There is a unique opportunity here for Labour to take the lead in a way that could very positively re-balance the shape of British politics and thus of the thrust of future policy determination. Labour should set down the principle that in any parliamentary selection which should normally include five candidates, at least three should be drawn from working class backgrounds.


  1. James Gibson says:

    Whether or we do actually see working classes MPs in parliament will depend on whether the party chooses to continue its New Labour path or whether it decides to follow a new route of social democracy. I’m hoping for the later.

  2. ShirleyKnott says:

    Oh, like that’ll happen! All those eager beaver PPE grads will be up in arms at the challenge, the threat, the competition thrown in the way of their career path! Why, half of them are following in Mum/Dad or relatives’ footsteps, this is a family thing!
    Are unions in the business (anymore) of creating a pathway for members to take the Parliamentary route?

  3. Rod says:

    The time has passed for Labour as a party capable of worthwhile reform.

    Events at Falkirk demonstrated the dominance of the Westminster-insider, Progress elite and showed how far they are prepared to go in ensuring safe-seats remain their entitlement.

    No matter that Miliband’s actions gave the green light to the Inneos boss to threaten to close the plant down.

    No matter that, as a result, hundreds of workers, undertaking work of the sort almost all MPs wouldn’t dream of doing, had rights withdrawn and a pay freeze enforced.

    No matter that Inneos was able to wring loan guarantees from the government – thus lowering the cost of borrowing for the company.

    The muddle-heads of Labour’s rotten elite offer nothing to no-one. Their only concerns are for their own careers and preserving a what’s left of Blair’s unpopular, bedraggled and discredited castles-in-the-sky ideology.

  4. Dave Roberts says:

    For once we agree on something and even the formerly black nationalist and quotas for everything Guardian diarist Hugh Muir has come to realise that there is something called the white working class. Professor Danny Dorling still has a little work to do in this area.

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