There aren’t many working class people like Bob in politics these days

December 10, 2012 4:53 pm

The Coventry and Oxford canals meet at Sutton Stop. Today, the coal-laden barges have given way to pleasure cruisers and over-optimistic fishermen strewn along the towpath. The nearby thrum of the M6 serves as a reminder of how dramatically commerce and every day life have changed in the centuries since the canal was built. Elsewhere around Coventry are the fossils of an industrial past: at Brown’s Lane and at Ryton acres of flattened concrete are all that remains of giant car factories; the iconic tower on Banner Lane has been reduced to rubble; and at Parkside, the only reminder of Rolls Royce are new streets named after historic jet engines.

A few minutes walk from Sutton Stop is Foxford School: last week one of their former pupils made the news when he announced his decision to stand down as the local MP. For 20 years Bob Ainsworth has represented Coventry North East: a former Defence Secretary and a latter day advocate of reforming our drugs laws, Bob has managed to combine being outspoken with a successful front bench career. That he has been able to do so speaks for the credibility he possesses, something that directly results from a rootedness in the place that he represents, and something that is unfortunately a rare commodity in modern politics. Whilst change and renewal are necessary and inevitable parts of politics I will be sad to see him go, not least because so few sheet metal workers have managed to get their feet under the cabinet table.

There will of course be a hotly contested selection battle: the majority in Coventry North East is sizeable and several names are already being touted for a process that has not even begun. Yet in making the succession about personalities the danger is that we forget about the politics. Whatever warm glow we get from our recent by-election successes, contempt for the political process is still widespread and transcends party label. Like many cities, Coventry has struggled with deindustrialisation. The ghosts of vanished factories serve as reminders of the jobs lost and lives changed by an economic whirlwind that has left people feeling powerless: in this context, couching any selection in terms of competing ambitions is crass and will only add to the overwhelming cynicism shown towards politics.

Just as importantly, there is an openness deficit in politics that reinforces the perception of self-interest and stitch-ups: in this context, the relentless focus on personalities only serves to maintain a distance between politics and the people. The party has done very little to help itself in this regard: by contriving a system of short-listing that makes papal conclaves look like a model of openness we open ourselves up to all manner of problems that have been documented elsewhere. However, we are where we are: a puff of white smoke will eventually snake into the air above Terry Duffy House and the resulting shortlist will be placed before party members in Coventry North East. With this in mind, it would be a shame if the story becomes about the people on it rather than how they hope to make Coventry a better place to live and work.

More broadly, there aren’t many working class people like Bob in politics these days. As we come to think about replacing him, that fact alone should make us all pause for thought and ask why.

  • AlanGiles

    I am waiting to see who gets Euan Blair or Georgia Gould foist on them – you can be sure it will be a nice safe seat!

    • aracataca

      Of course they could have some expensively and exclusively educated ex-public schoolgirls who come from rich and right wing business families like say…… Caroline Lucas or Natalie Bennet.

  • Dave Postles

    Jerry Dammers.

  • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

    “the majority in Coventry North East is sizeable”

    That means Progress will be fighting tooth and nail for this one.

  • Daniel Speight

    …there aren’t many working class people like Bob in politics these days.

    I, as I’ve said on LL far too many times already, would like to see more working class parliamentary candidates. That is more ordinary people representing ordinary people rather than the SPADs, Westminster insiders, husbands, sons and daughters of our political class, and the assorted careerists who dominate all three parties, but especially Labour.

    At the same time I would rather they were not toadies like Bob, but then again beggars can’t be choosers as they say.

    I wonder when will Ed Miliband’s wish for more working class candidates become anything other than just spin.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jim.crowder2 Jim Crowder

    Given the glib way in which the phrase “working class” is bandied about here, surely we’re all working class.

    Why is an MP (office manager type on £65k) working class? Was his grandfather a miner? Perhaps we should be more clear on what we mean by working class.

    • Dave Postles

      ‘Working-class background’ would be more appropriate. Many of my generation come from working-class families on council estates. We are now middle-class or perhaps declassé(e)s, but we remain close to and empathetic with working-class sentiment in a way in which the current crop of MPs are not.

  • http://www.facebook.com/colin.adkins.52 Colin Adkins

    Prior to this posting were two more about outcomes of selection processes. Both of those selected were Oxbridge graduates I think (1 for certain, 1 an educated (Essex Uni) guess – she was a former advisor so in all probability I am right). When 25% of current MPs went to Oxbridge can we at last see an argument that we should have Oxbridge free shortlists. Or is it that ‘diversity’ is just used as a ‘resource’ by aspiring candidates when it suits their purposes of getting selected.

    • RobW

      Colin, I was brought up by my mum on our own on a council estate for the first 12 years of my life. I went to the local primary, then the local comp and through hard work and effort I managed to get into Cambridge where I studied politics. I wanted to go to Cambridge not for all the champagne and boaters and all that rubbish (and as you can imagine I hated the kind of Cameroonian posh boys that you found at some colleges) but because it’s one of the best universities in the world. I regard myself as working class, yet according to you I’m not and, if I ever wanted to be an MP, should be actively penalized for having a good degree. Is that really fair?

  • aracataca

    Great man-but isn’t he a Maoist these days?

  • RobW

    Bob Ainsworth was a sycophant in government, a largely incompetent minister and a complete embarrassment as Defence Secretary. I think we should just focus on finding the best candidate for a particular seat, regardless of background. I think a much more important thing is to get local candidates who know a constituency and its people and care about serving them.

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