Working class candidates need genuine access to the political system – encouragement is not enough

23rd July, 2012 3:00 pm

There is a crisis of working class representation in Parliament. While there is no shortage of talented working class people the route to parliament is crowded by sharp elbowed middle class folk. There needs to be serious and drastic action to address this situation – we need shortlists that aim to address the lack of working class representation within the Labour Party in parliament. This would go some way to solving one of the root causes of the problem: ordinary people seeing politics as a completely different world, a world they can never access.

Who can blame people for thinking this? Take the most recent PMQs for example. It felt like watching “Oxford Union Plus”. David Cameron was flanked by Nick Clegg and Andrew Mitchell while Ed Miliband was flanked by Ed Balls and Harriet Harman. All – except Miliband – attended expensive fee-paying secondary schools and all – with the exception of Harman – are Oxbridge graduates. This is only a small example the difference between ordinary people and the political class but the broader numbers underline the disparity. Of the 2010 intake of MPs over a third went to fee paying schools, 91% are university graduates and a third went to Oxbridge. To put this in context only 25% of the UK adult population has a degree.

It is heartening that there are attempts within the party to address this problem: the programme, led by Jon Trickett, to identify working class candidates; the Labour Diversity Fund will help candidates without the means to fight expensive campaigns; the Future Candidates Programme will provide training and support to those wishing to become involved in campaigning and politics. As important as these programmes are they do not go far enough. There is more absent from the picture than training and support. People need to believe that a career in politics is actually a viable option for them.  It is a problem that reflects one of the reasons for poor state school representation at Oxbridge. It is not that state school pupils are not talented enough to get into Oxbridge – they are. Most do not see it as a possibility so they do not apply.

This is why shortlists which focus on increasing working class representation could be very effective. They would open a road into the political world that is currently blocked by a traffic jam of special advisers, parliamentary researchers, think tank types and lobbyists. Shortlists may be a brutal solution but the situation is dire and the success of all-woman shortlists in improving the gender balance of MPs shows they work. There would be some obvious challenges in bringing about the introduction of such shortlists. In particular, setting eligibility criteria would be difficult and controversial. However, these problems can be overcome and shortlists made a reality if there is a will to do so.

Shortlists are far from an ideal solution but given the entrenched nature of the problem a solution that works, even if imperfect, is needed. Shortlists would be a corrective to Labour Party selection processes that have consistently failed to widen participation and to reflect the country the party claims to represent. Such shortlists would show working class people that parliamentary selection is not the preserve of the middle class and that parliament is not a talking shop for the fortunate.  They would also be good for the Labour Party itself. The pool of talent the party currently draws from for parliamentary candidates is too narrow. Growing the diversity of people, views and backgrounds available can only strengthen the party’s connection with the people it aims to represent.

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  • T.P.Johnstone

    This would benefit the party very much. A party that captures every diverse part of the British society would really benefit it’s policy making, aims, campaigns etc.. The Labour Party may need to remember where they come from, who they were and how they started before they wake up and realise that the working-class, also have the talent, ability and desire to represent their communities. Good report.

    • treborc

      It’s of course not that people have the talent, it’s whether the talent shows through at local level. Every time I have seen people who have the talent in my local branch or CLP, you will see them slowly get fed up and move away.

      We do need to see the talent and then harness it for the party not let it drift away, the same goes in Unions who no longer tend to look within the membership for  tasks but now will recruit from Universities they all seem to do it.

  • Daniel Speight

    The pool of talent the party currently draws from for parliamentary candidates is too narrow.

    That really sums up the problem.

    • Chilbaldi

      Even if the pool of potential candidates was broadened, I have no faith that the CLPs would then go on to select the best candidates.

      Collectively, they are very much stuck in an old way of thinking these things through.

  • Brumanuensis

    You know, Dan Hodges actually had a half-decent suggestion on this topic:

    (Just read the penultimate paragraph, the rest is typically tedious Hodges boilerplate).

    •  I think you’ll find that is what we working class auto-didacts call a reductio ad absurdum.

  • Devising an ‘all working class list’ will have practical difficulties as there is no enshrined definition of what working class means.

    If someone was raised in a working class family, but was bright and able to go to University and enter a professional career, would they be disqualified?

    If a factory line worker achieved a promotion and became a manager, would they be disqualified?

    Or would there be a salary cap? Pimlico Plumbers – a firm of plumbers  – recently announced all their staff salaries for a Channel 4 documentary, where some ordinary plumbers were earning in excess of £80k.  At that salary they would lead a very comfortable, middle-class lifestyle, but do a traditionally working class job.  Would they be disqualified?

    A Marxist definition of the working class is essentially anyone who undertakes physical labour but does not own the land/factory/property on which they work.  But I know of two people who work on a production line in a car plant who receive shares as part of their remuneration.  Would they be disqualified?  They do, afterall, have an equity stake.

    To have a short-list, you would need a concrete and almost universally accepted definition of working-class.  And I think that might cause some problems.  There may also be problems in discrimination law, it may actually be illegal to ban someone from applying for a job (which is essentially what we are talking about) because of their socio-economic class (although I admit this hasn’t stopped the all-woman shortlists which, as far as I’m aware, has not been tested in court).

    • Alan Giles

      Jon, do you remember the 1997 Labour Conference?.

      A motion was discussed to make it easier for blue collar workers to become candidates for the party.

      Auntie Mandy soon put the kybosh on that one “horny handed sons of toil are not needed by New Labour”, was his oleaginous response.

      He was being his usual snobbish obnoxious self, of course, but it will be interesting  to see if labour has moved on from it’s hoity-toity ways of the 1997-2010 era.

      I suspect that not much will have changed.

      • Alan, understand I’m not arguing against the need to improve representation from all sections of society.  As a lad with farming in his blood, I know first hand that those who have got their hands dirty for a living have a huge amount to offer.

        I’m just arguing that the ‘shortlist’ method prescribed above will be very difficult to introduce given the complexities of definition.

    • Josiah

       Actually the Marxist definition of working-class is anyone who is forced to sell their labour to survive and who doesn’t own the means of production. Shares are not the means of production, and your requirement for it to be ‘physical’ labour also doesn’t exist in Marx’s works. ‘By hand or by brain’ remember…

      But still, fair enough. I don’t believe that someone on £150k a year is working-class just by virtue of having to sell his/her labour power.

      • JC

        Josiah, Although Marx had a very good definition, it was based on economic class and not social class. Marx split the developed world into two, those who had to work to live, and those who didn’t. In our modern society, it’s all a bit different.

        Then of course there’s social class, which used to define the middle class as those with aspirations, and the upper and lower classes as the others. 

        We need to be clear about which groups we are talking about here. Note that neither definition is based on the often used hereditary principles often used (My dad was working class therefore so am I, your dad was upper class therefore so are you). Class belongs to the individual. There’s no reason why someone from a middle class background cannot become a manual labourer with no aspirations for improvement if they wish, nor are there restrictions on a manual labourer marrying into privilege.

    • I dot

       your questions are all eminently sensible ones so no doubt you will soon be thrown to the lions

  • Daniel Speight

    Sometimes the party needs to step into a decision without quite  knowing where it will lead. We can identify the problem. The PLP membership has become a clone of the current leadership. We almost expect them to be young, to have no real world experience, to be Oxbridge, to be spads or bag carriers, NGO admins and so on. Knowing the problem and how insidious it is, we have to find a way of using positive discrimination to break the cycle. Maybe the unions can take a lead here.

  • Billy Bragg

     Surely the real class divide in 21st century Britain is between those who were privately educated and those who used the state school system? A requirement that 80% of Labour candidates be state educated – whether they went to university or not – would bring in talented people from outside the Oxbridge PPE club.

    • Mullaneatdagenham

      You could have state educated, and a privately educated person and the CLP in all likelihood pick the privately educated person. Need more Trade Union input.
      I know a MP now who fits your criteria, and had a massive struggle to get a seat.

      • John Dore

        I find that hard to believe, why would the CLP want the privately educated person?

    • I actually disagree. Plenty of very middle class people send their kids to grammar schools and “grammar schools by postcode”. And plenty of working class kids get scholarships to private schools. When I went for interview at Oxford (History not PPE!) 50% of the applicants I met were from state schools but I was the only person I came across who was at an LEA comprehensive.

      • Billy Bragg

         It’s not about working class kids going to private schools, it’s about the social circle that they mix with. Anyone who is privately educated – whatever their background – spends most of their time with a social group that do not have the same life experiences of 90% of the population. As a result, privately educated candidates can find it hard to connect with state educated voters.

        • jaime taurosangastre candelas


          surely, that is only true of their school years?  I was not privately educated, but one of my team was and now he works in an environment in which I don’t think many at all were privately educated – and he’s great at just getting along with everybody, and I have no concerns at all about his ability to empathise with anyone with whom we deal (A&E department – we can’t pick and choose who are our “customers” in the modern parlance).

          You’ve probably got a point, but I don’t think it is black and white, or fully proven.  Indicative, maybe.

          Are you the singer Billy Bragg?  I love my music and have a couple of CDs of Billy Bragg (one bootleg, I’m afraid).  I still listen regularly to “Between the Wars” – which sums up to me so much of what I learned from my father of 1940s- 1960s politics – there is one line that makes me wince (“build me a path from cradle to grave”, which jars with my sense of self-responsibility) – but that song gives me great pleasure, and if it is you, I would like to thank you for your eloquence.

          • derek

            Nice song!!!!!! 

            That’s entertainment! I’m pretty sure Billy will like this.


          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Here you go Derek, you’ll like this (and the man himself would have been 100 this week).  I don’t believe what he’s singing, but I’m a pessimist.  You’re an optimist, so you will.  enjoy it:


            Don’t get me started on my Johnny Cash line up… I have re-discovered the 3 minute little clip that I don’t think is on any official record but is on a handheld recording I have when Helen and June are teasing Johnny in between songs in a concert in Fort Worth to the tune of “Duelling Banjos”, and Johnny is getting upset and telling them he’s the star…

          • derek

            I was a huge fan of the Jam and was lucky enough to have seen them live four times.
            If songs can enthuse us then Neil Young’s Helpless is pretty apt for theses time.


          • Billy Bragg


            I get your point about your colleague – but, in an A&E department, he’s bound to encounter state educated people every day I should imagine.

            The problem is the high percentage of those privately educated in the Commons and in Whitehall. Do they ever work as closely on a day to day basis as your colleague does with the 90% of us who were state educated? The Labour leadership speaks about being the party for the many not the few. Does that principle not apply to those who went to state schools?

            I don’t think it’s black and white either, but as a few of those posting here have wondered if it is possible to still classify people as working class for the purpose of candidate selection, I was simply offering an opinion as to where I feel the dividing line between classes can still be discerned.

            I am the singer-songwriter and thank you for your kind words. Rather surprised that you have difficulty with the notion ‘From the cradle to the grave’. That slogan was the founding ethos of the National Health Service. I guess that, if you work in A&E, I don’t need to remind you that most of us are born and die in the hands of the NHS. We rely on it for the whole of our lives.

            No need to apologise about the link. YouTube is like pirate radio was in the 1960s – I don’t get paid, but it gets my stuff out there to people.

          • Chilbaldi


            Surely most privately educated people work with a majority of state educated people on a daily basis? I can think of a few professions where this may not be the case – stuff like banking, insurance, etc – but not many. Even in a traditionally middle class career such as law, the lawyer will be dealing with working class clients on a daily basis (unless the lawyer works in banking or insurance law).

            I have always been of the mind that it is not where you come from, it’s where you are going. Also, don’t punish the son for the sins of the father (sending him to private school).

            Plenty of our finest Labour MPs went to a private school after all, not least a certain C Attlee who was particularly proud of his.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Thanks for your reply Billy.  

            On the single point about me wincing with that line, it’s just that in life I feel there needs to be a balance between provision and responsibility, and sometimes I feel it goes too hard over in one direction – you’d agree I’m sure with Thatcherism, but I make a case (not very popularly on LL, to be sure) that there’s a limit on the other direction.  Your words in that single line appear to me to come across as unconditional and demanding (but maybe I am abnormally attuned), and I do feel that for the majority of us – those not afflicted with a condition we can do nothing about, and of major impact – there should be some conditionalities in life. But I am not a poet as you are, and do not have to try to fit words into a verse or to a beat, so I will withdraw from that view.

            I do agree with your general sentiment on the NHS, and of course A&E takes in anyone and everyone – we don’t care. But, as an insider’s view, I would advise you that we have a very heathy sense of “we (sometimes) deal with idiots” or even “Darwin’s Law” – you would not believe some of the idiocies some people get up to that result in severe injury, even discounting the obvious such as drink driving. Part of my role of running the department is to moderate colleagues’ reactions – to tell them to calm down and to have a proper perspective, mostly, but sometimes to enforce a sense of distance. Colleagues in general surgery or the specialisms tend only to meet the public on a pre-planned basis, and it is all very sensible. What we deal with is in three categories: accidents or emergency conditions that can happen to anyone, tragedies (children hit on the bikes on the way to school, for example), and idiocies. We are known for our irreverence as a coping mechanism, but I do entirely agree with you about the NHS in general. I would not work for another organisation.

            And I thank you for your music. I’ll go and try to find your “Don’t Try this at Home” CD to buy properly.

            {EDIT: Having again listened to the You Tube version, it seems to me that a re-release with some updated words would go down very well! “In times of austerity” was a prescient line}

          • Lembit Opik’s Lovechild


            If it’s you.

            I’m way to the right of your politics  but do find some of your songs truly inspiring. Between the wars, World turned upside down, Don’t walk away Renee.


  • UKAzeri

    Well I guess one of the ways to create a shortlist would be to exclude certain experiences. For example,
     Have you been working as an unpaid  intern for more than 3 months since leaving school? :))
     Have you done ( could afford) ANY unpaid work for more than 3 months since leaving school? :))
    Have you ever worked in PR?
    Have you ever been skiing?
    Do you often play tennis?
    :))) lol
    if any of the answers are yes – you don’t get on the shortlist :)))
    What I am trying to say is that there are ways to identify privilege  and the various tastes and life choices it breeds …

    • Bab

      And what do you do about those who are working class, and happen to be at a University that offers unpaid internships in Westminster…

      • treborc

        That is the problem we are having to many so called working class from the Universities, it’s time really we found a few people who actually were working class did not go to University.


        • TomFairfax

           I’m afraid University is actually a middle class fixation.

          My father in law came over here at 16 and trained as a toolmaker and eventually ended up starting his own business.

          His son (child of a millionaire by this point) left school at sixteen,  did an apprenticeship in tool making (not at his Dad’s company) and started up his own business. Now mid-forties, plenty of leisure of time, but still gets involved in doing the shop floor work when people are off.

          The daughter decided to set up her own business (another 16year old school leaver from Dartmouth Comprehensive Walsall) so she could do something that allowed her the flexibility to walk the children to and from school and still get an income.

          Some people need to try and get over the idea that people who don’t have degrees have somehow failed in any way.

          Doing a degree in Politics is not contributing to society, getting off ones backside and creating jobs for other people is.

          The main problem I think is that people like to recruit people in their own image, unless they are forced to do differently.

          • Trudge74

            Our fixation with youth may also be a problem. It has become a career path, as a result we seem to have a whole gang of political leaders in their forties with barely enough of experience in the ‘real world’ to make up a workfare programme!

          • I dot

            “Doing a degree in Politics is not contributing to society, getting off ones backside and creating jobs for other people is”

            Anti-intellectual nonsense.

            Typical of the bigoted attitude against knowledge which can be so sadly prevalent in parts of the labour movement.

          • Lembit Opik’s Lovechild

             yeah, but he’s got a point though. What use is PPE?

          • I Dot

             It is pathetic that you even need to ask the question and speaks to a lack of intellectual curiosity on your part

          • Lembit Opik’s Lovechild

             I Dot (Why did you miss out the i in your name?)

            Instead of intellectual sneers why not actually answer a question? I will be interested to see whether an intellectual powerhouse such as yourself will be able to put together a cogent and thought  through response.  Having read through the prospectus I fail to see how, if a PPE degree from Oxford is such a rigorous and testing degree, it has managed to produce so many second and third rate politicians.

            The current leading politicians all studied PPE at Oxford. The current crop of politicians are all useless idiots. Ergo PPE studies produce idiots. QED.

            No work that one out!

          • treborc

             Do you know something your right, they did miss the “i”  out.

            Your right with the rest of it as well.

          • TomFairfax

             Sadly I think you mistake me comment on one of the softer subjects as an attack on intellectual rigour.

            Far from it.  Try visiting the engineering department of your almer mater and suggesting a poltitics degree  requires the same rigour.

            In fact also try visiting the local Tory party social events occassionally and suggesting a politics degree on it’s own matches up to those with rather more qualifications and letters before their name.

          • treborc

             Seems with you most people are bigots, or talking rubbish, of course your not.

          • charlotte nichols

            “Doing a degree in Politics is not contributing to society, getting off ones backside and creating jobs for other people is.”
            As a current Politics student, ouch. I agree that not having a degree is not in any respects a failure and don’t regard myself as above anyone who trod a different path whether by choice or circumstance, but I don’t consider myself below them either. There is nothing wrong  (or inherently damaging to society) about wanting to be involved in academia- teaching and learning isn’t ‘not contributing to society’, far from it. A contribution to society and a contribution to HMRC is not the same thing.

            And for the record, I went to a state comprehensive and consider myself ‘legit’ working class. 

          • TomFairfax

            You are right. Nothing wrong about the different choices being taken. The point I’ve singled out Politics though is it is being used as a stepping stone in it’s own right to a career, which historically has had far better practioners without that qualification.

            Obviously a political website attracts those doing that subject, but that doesn’t mean they are the only people who should be involved.

        • UKAzeri

          University degree offers a wealth of knoweledge and more importantly cultural capital that would arm the working classes in their strugle for eqaulity.

          Uneducated mases are easy to control and manipulate. Just look at US and what the republicans are doing there. In Uk we have The Sun there they have Fox news channel.

          The ability to question and rely on your own knowledge is essential for change. Starting point is the Labour party, if we cant push it here, there is no point even trying on a national level.

          “Keep you doped with religion and sex and TVAnd you think you’re so clever and classless and free”
          John Lennon  :))

      • UKAzeri

        if the university is paying for it, the individual can show this.

        the issue at hand is that only afluent families can support their grown children through years of unpaid internships.

    • treborc

      The problem is  really what is and is not Working class i would say what matters more then going to University is your ideology. Nye bevan wney to the central London College funded by the Union of Mine workers

      • Robert_Crosby

        Pretty much agree with what you’re saying…  although it has to be said that many of the unions are already way ahead with this kind of agenda.

        The fact that there are some people at meetings who don’t even appear to show any “empathy” towards trade unions and what they do is a cause for great concern and explains why so much of our “machine” seems disconnected and out of touch.  Instead we have androids on the career path who are pre-programmed to trot out dross on Twitter and Facebook along the lines of “Person X will make an outstanding Police Commissioner/Councillor/MP/whatever… ” – even where the selected candidates are often just discredited Party establishment figures.

      • Trudge74

        Exactly the point. To succeed inthe shark pool of Westminster and the bureaucratic red tape a direct line from no white collar experience (one presumes this is t nearest we are gong to get to what we mean by working class?) might not best preparation. It would be great to get more people with a background similar to the population as a whole into parliament but if they are then unable o be effective it becomes little more than window dressing. It might be that a longer game needs to be played in which future candidates could be funded on a longer more intense training programme?

  • Todger

    Barring politics what do PPE graduates usually end up doing in the real world?

    • PeterBarnard

      Todger : they discover that “economics is extremely useful as a form of employment for economists” (J K Galbraith).

      • Brumanuensis

        On the utility of economics, I would add Paul Samuelson’s observation ‘Financial indices have predicted nine out of the last five recessions’.

        • PeterBarnard

          Strange thing is, Brumanuensis, is that the business world in the mature western democracies (especially the US and the UK) has never been populated with so many economists and MBAs … and we haven’t been in such an economic/financial pickle for eighty years or so …

          Maybe we ought to be educating and training people in how widgets are actually made?

          • Brumanuensis

            I seem to recall Ha-Joon Chang writing in ’23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism’, that most South Korean politicians were engineers. Makes you wonder.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Oddly, while I’d agree with you wider point, it does not stop Labour people from worshipping at the altar of Keynes, so long as they interpret his advice as “spend as much as you possibly can on buying the left wing vote at the next election, and b*gger the future”, while ignoring the rest of his advice about saving some money in the good times.  Of course, Keynes himself would not put it that way, but that is how he is interpreted, and he’s long dead so cannot stop this sort of nonsense.

            so Economists = bad, Keynes = solid doctrine, at least in terms of winning elections.

          • Petra Pan

            I think Keynes is still well regarded because his ideas have been seen to work and pull economies out of the doldrums back into growth coupled with lowering of unemployment in a way that, as far as I know, no other economist has managed.  

      • Todger

        Economics is a non-discipline and pseudo-science. One of my old girlfriends held a degree in economics (awarded from London University) and couldn’t multiply two real numbers without a calculator. One weekend while she was out I flipped through some of her essays, textbooks, and course notes and was shocked by the elementary level of mathematical analysis involved; the statistical methods used were naive and not one single differential operator or integral sign appeared anywhere as far as I could discover. If economists really are that mathematically naive and so unaware of unseen phenomena happening under a veil it’s no wonder that the world ends up plunged into the sh*t periodically, unavoidably and apparently without warning.

        Here’s an equation that even an economist should be able to understand:

        Economics = Boll*cks 

        The blind really are leading the blind.

        • Brumanuensis

          I wouldn’t go that far. I can’t comment on your girlfriend’s case, but economics can provide very helpful and convincing explanations of real-world phenomena. There are bad economists and good economists; bad economic theories and good ones. The academic method generally does a decent job of separating wheat from the chaff.

    • I dot

      Another one here being nasty about people who dare to go to university and get a good degree.  I do not know which planet you people live on.  You are bigots, plain and simple.

      • Todger

        Jealous? I went to two universities and hold three academic degrees. Proper degrees that is in mathematics and science. Grow up.

        • I Dot

          “Proper degrees that is in mathematics and science”

          People with maths and sciences degrees often say this.  It is a reflection of their own blinkered understanding of the world.

          You know, research into political extremism (I’m thinking of recruitment into al Qaida and other groups such as Hizb ut Tahrir) has identified that people with hard science backgrounds are substantially over-represented in them. 

          This suggests that they are simply not trained to have the critical thinking skills which are essential to understanding the values of today’s liberal and open societies. 

    • Brumanuensis

      If they’re me, they go into law.

      • Todger

        So PPE followed by College of Law and LL.B? Yea?

        • Brumanuensis

          Almost. I did PPE postgrad.

          • Todger

            Wow! Traditionally postgraduate studies are more demanding than undergraduate studies. To each is own I suppose.

          • Brumanuensis

            Well, maybe. I didn’t really have a point of comparison. But it would be nice if that were correct 😉

  • i dot

    How on earth could you devise a shortlist which was able to determine whether somebody was working class or middle class?  What an utterly bigoted and wrong-headed article. 

    Furthermore, as regards local government anyway, it is addressing a problem which simply does not exist.

    As I see it the main problem in the labour party as a whole is not the dominance of middle-class candidates but precisely the opposite – the monopolisation of council wards and key positions within the local party structures by people from working-class areas who are able to exploit numerical superiority in safe seats and wards to exclude candidates from more affluent areas who are often greater equipped to understand policy and cater for the needs of the electorate as a whole rather than to the labour base in working-class areas.  This is a question of experience of the wider world, frankly.

    This situation goes a long way to explaining the appalling state of councillors on many labour groups, may of whom are sub-literate, frankly. 

    We need a campaign for decent candidates, not some confused and bigoted policy based on class prejudice as outlined here.  At present, far too many talented people are excluded from the Labour Party by precisely the working class dominance of structures which I have outlined.   

    The situation may be different for MPs, but again, not in my part of the country. 

    • Brumanuensis

      I can think of several possible means, including but not limited to, whether the individual was university-educated, what NRS or NS-SEC grade they would be classified in or what their family background and current employment status were. It’s not a precise science, but it is possible to construct parameters to assist judgement.

      “As I see it the main problem in the labour party as a whole is not the dominance of middle-class candidates but precisely the opposite – the monopolisation of council wards and key positions within the local party structures by people from working-class areas who are able to exploit numerical superiority in safe seats and wards to exclude candidates from more affluent areas who are often greater equipped to understand policy and cater for the needs of the electorate as a whole rather than to the labour base in working-class areas. This is a question of experience of the wider world, frankly”.

      You appear lost. Would you like directions back to the 19th century perhaps?

      • I dot

        “I can think of several possible means, including but not limited to,
        whether the individual was university-educated, what NRS or NS-SEC grade
        they would be classified in or what their family background and current
        employment status were”.

        This is just utter rubbish.

        And as regards your reply to my other point, it is one which is borne of plenty of personal experience.  It is a truism that many talented candidates see themselves placed in unwinnable wards year after year as the safe seats are taken up by knackers from the old boys/girls network.  If you don’t think this is the case, then you have little experience of labour politics at local level!

        • Brumanuensis

          Well that was a convincing rebuttal. Do you have a problem with the ONS’ methods or do you just find the idea of getting more working class people selected intrinsically laughable?

          I have experience with local politics too. I don’t recognise your picture, but I suppose one set of anecdotes won’t trump another. Frankly your patronising assumptions about the intellectual capabilities of working class people were what drew censure.

          • I dot

            It is offensive in the extreme to suggest that the Labour Party should decide who is “working class” and who is “middle class” and then let people be candidates on this basis.  If you think that an objective definition is possible you are chasing the rainbow.  There is far too much of a subjective component to the concept of class.

            I don’t draw any conclusions about the “intellectual capabilities” of working class people.  They have plenty of intellectual capacity to ensure their self-perpetuating hegmony over party structures.

            I do , however, draw conclusions about how well-educated and aware of the modern world they are, which is a different thing.  There is a serious literacy problem with many of them, take it from me.  This isn’t the same thing as saying they have no intellectual capacity.

            It is a sad fact that many labour people from working-class communities operate within the party in a highly exclusionary and cliquey way.  You go to any party fucntion and you see them.  They are representative of their own small communities and cannot comprehend the wider world.  They despise the better-educated and think anybody with a professional job is in some way suspect.

          • Brumanuensis

            There is a debate to be had about how homogenous the working class is and how people identify in class terms.

            But you seem to think it’s impossible to come to any decision. The Labour Party is not labelling people; it is trying to come up with a basis for encouraging people from a more diverse range of backgrounds to join the Party and become candidates. So far, apart from some unsupported allegations about the literacy of local councillors, you haven’t come up with any sound grounds to question the merits of this approach.

            Currently, 13 schools have produced 10% of MPs in the current Parliament. 13% are lawyers and only 1.4% doctors. 14.5% are political organisers, but only 4% manual labourers or school teachers. Is this state of affairs really desirable or sustainable, if we are to keep calling ourselves citizens of a ‘representative’ democracy?

            Encouraging people from under-represented employment or social backgrounds to enter politics isn’t some optional extra. It’s a fundamental necessity. It is not beyond our wit to come up with a means of favouring or encouraging the particpation and selection of people who fall under those headings. The methods I suggested were just a few potential starting points.

          • Brumanuensis

            Besides, Ernest Bevin was an effective Foreign Secretary and he left school at 11. If he could do it, others can.

          • I dot

             Then where are these others?  They don’t exist!  You assume that there’s this constituency of working class people out there who want to be involved in labour party politics.  They don’t exist!  Or if they do, then they are of the “bring back hanging kick out muslims” variety, (which is a strong strand of working-class labour support by the way).

            You know, you talk to MPs, party organisers, everybody knows that there is a problem with the calibre of labour councillors in working class areas.  It’s impossible to deal with this problem because if you try, you get responses like yours.  This is just how it is – you need to realise this.

          • I dot

             I could add as well people who come into contact with them such as local journalists, amongst whom working-class labour councillors are generally regarded as figures of fun.  Or those from charities or business who are forced to deal with them professionally on local authority matters.

          • I dot

             Furthermore, Ernest Bevin came from a completely different society to that of today.  He did not have to deal with the main issue in today’s society which is the reconfiguration of the UK towards a post-industrial economy.  In such an economy the value of knowledge is greatly increased – we need to have candidates who can grasp this and shape the local and wider national communities towards a more intelligent, knowledge-based economy.  Not dissing them, as seems to be prevalent here.

          • ‘a more intelligent, knowledge-based economy’.

            Classic managerialist drivel.

            I’ve worked my entire life in that ‘knowledge-based economy’ and found that outside of a few technical enclaves there is  very little real knowledge in it and that it is largely run by rank
            (in both senses of the word) amateurs for whom real in-depth understanding of their market sectors would be a positive disqualification.

            This is why the implosion of the financial sector came as no surprise at all to me or to any other intelligent person who has ever actually worked in it.

            And degrees (many of which are now in completely bogus subjects less intellectually demanding than A-levels were back when I took them in the 1970s) say very little about their owners unless they are firsts or from real universities and in real academic disciplines.

            Even then I can see no reason why a history graduate is better qualified to be a call centre supervisor than someone with no degree at all. 

            And neither can the working class comrades who once could have done many of those jobs but have now been denied the  opportunity by degree-holding jobsworths.

            (And yes I do have a degree myself and am inordinately proud of it having got it through evening classes at a former mechanics institute that is now Birkbeck College).

          • I Dot

            Then by your own criteria, your “degree” is worthless, so I don’t know why you say you’re proud of it. 

            There is just no simple division between “working-class comrades” and “degree-holding jobsworths”.  Its nasty reductive thinking on your part to say so.

          • Alan Giles

            Roger has every reason to be proud of his degree. He studied in his own time and evening AFTER presumably he had worked all day.And engineering isn’t a non-demanding job where you can sit and drink tea all day

          • Alan Giles

            Are you suggesting that only Labour concillors are laughing stocks?.

            In my own (Conservative controlled) borough we have a few Tory councillors who indulge in knockabout “fun”, one of whom got thrown out of the party for brawling in public, then, after having been readmitted did more or less the same thing again.

            You get good, bad and indifferent in all parties and all walks of life.

            We get all sorts and conditions  on LL – including yourself, who like a previous defunct poster who called himself “Guy M” (I wonder if you know him? like you he posted at all hours of the day and night), is an odious snob.

          • Brumanuensis

            Others? How about James Callaghan, George Brown, Herbert Morrison and John Major? All former Foreign Secretaries and not a university education between them.

            Most ‘bring back hanging/kick out the Muslims’ types vote BNP anyway and are generally people who in latter days would have been considered working-class Tories (i.e. not Labour).

            As usual, you offer only woolly, unverifiable anecdotes about local councillors in an undefined area who apparently are functionally illiterate. Pardon me if I’m not overwhelmed by the force of your argument. And as for the nonsense about ‘knowledge economy’, a knowledge economy requires wide diffusion of skills, not the hoarding of power by some narrow technocratic elite. Quite aside from your continued deprecation of the intelligence of working-class men and women (except when using their weaselly cunning to deny good middle-class boys and girls their rightful place!)

            In case you think I have a chip on my shoulder, I both do and don’t. Personally I’m from a fairly affluent background, but through my mother’s side I have what you might call ‘working-class origins’, i.e. the sort of people who presumably wouldn’t fit in this bright shiny ‘knowledge’ utopia you seem intent on building and none of whom went to university. They were all pretty sharp though.

          • I dot

            “‘bring back hanging/kick out the Muslims’ types vote BNP anyway  ”

            No, they don’t. Many of them vote Labour.  it’s a comment like this which makes we wonder of your grasp of how Labour party politics operates at a local level.

          • Brumanuensis

            Erm, not according to polling data they don’t.


            From 2009, but still relevant. Especially the 59 – 17 preference for Cameron over Brown.

          • I dot

             you canvass in labour areas, you speak to racist labour voters.  simple as that, and they’re not just isolated instances, either. 

    • Alan Giles

      And nothing you have written here suggests to you that you yourself are just a tad snobbish and bigotted?

      • I dot

        This is a bigoted class prejudice article and deserves a strong response.  Everybody knows that many labour councillors from working class areas have problems with literacy and in general do not understand the world around them.  And many of them are racists as well. 

        I don’t think it’s snobbish to point out the literacy issue.  it is a real issue.  And you don’t addres the other point I make, which is that party structures and positions such as branch, clp, lgc, are generally not dominated by middle-class people.  They are dominated by old-school labour types who have difficulty in understanding the modern world.   

        • Brumanuensis

          God, it’s like Lord Salisbury has resurrected himself and started posting on the internet.

          Alan is right. Your prejudices are showing and they ‘ain’t pretty. I expect you have some hard evidence for your assertion that working class people are a bit thick and ‘do not understand the world around them’? As in, stuff that can be sourced and properly documented. As befits a fine, upstanding gentleman like yourself.

          • I dot

            You know, at one point I would have responded the same way as you to a comment such as the one I have made.   But unfortunately I have since gained real-world experience of how the party operates at local level.  What I am telling you is what actually goes on, as I have seen with my own eyes.

            I will restate – the calibre of many working-class labour councillors and working-class candidates is absolutely appalling. This is a serious issue and hampers Labours ability to gain power at national level. 

            We need better quality candidates, not more working class candidates for the sake of it.  I am by no means damning the lot of them, but what I say is in general a simple fact. 

            And there is also the wider issue of the insularity of working-class labour activists and their prejudice against those with successful jobs or university degrees.  Again, this is a real issue I have seen myself, I can’t provide written evidence for it.

          • Brumanuensis

            What you are proposing could easily be used to justify the mass disenfranchisement of people who don’t meet your standards, as well as fostering a patronising and unpleasant condescension towards working-class candidates.

            To put it crudely, prove to me, objectively, that working-class people are generally too stupid to be selected for public service.

          • I dot

            I didn’t say they were too stupid, I said that they often come from an anti-intellectual position and are mistrustful of those who they see as overly educated or professional.

          •  Isn’t there an ‘i’ missing from your name?

            Under the snobbish bigotry you may however have a point of sorts which as I point out above is that the organisations and experiences which formed effective working class representatives have been largely destroyed or colonised by people like yourself so that they are just not able to gain the skills and knowledge they need to operate effectively.

            And has it occurred to you that your comrades ‘anti-intellectualism’ and mistrust may be a personal reaction to your own all-too-evident snobbery and sense of entitlement?

            When as in all too many cases a degree is a license to fill the countless jobs in which not very intelligent or well-educated would-be-members of the middle classes persecute and patronise their ‘clients’ and ‘customers’ you can well understand the latter developing a sense of resentment towards them.

            And then they join the Labour Party to try and do something about it only to find it infested with the very same people.

          • John Dore

            Oh….. the irony.

          • I Dot

             i shake my head.  This is just such a mischaracterisation of what I have experienced within the movement.  all you are doing is making excuses for anti-intellectualism and reverse snobbery.  its a nasty tendency which is far too prevalent in the labour party.

          • There is no way we can know what you have experienced within the movement unless you tell us.

            And what you do tell us can only lead us to question what on earth you are doing in this party at all when you clearly despise the people it was founded by and for.

            BTW have you ever read Burns’s To A Louse?


            The last stanza is particularly pertinent to your case.

          • I Dot

            I wondered when somebody would say that.  It is an accusation which is raised all too easily by elements within the Labour Party, ie that “you’re in the wrong party”.  Its an expression of a certain part of the albour movement which harbours envy and resentment against those it considers to be class enemies.  I love the Labour Party and I love campaigning for it, which is why I want us to field the best candidates we can.  I just don’t like the anti-success, anti-knowledge tendencies which are prevalent within parts of it.  

          • Brumanuensis

            I have suddenly remembered a story told about the socialist intellectual G.D.H Cole, by Hugh Dalton (I think). It was remarked in a meeting that Labour wouldn’t win ‘without the support of the football crowds’. At which point Cole reportedly shuddered and turned away.

          • I Dot

            “the organisations and experiences which formed effective working class
            representatives have been largely destroyed or colonised by people like
            yourself ”

            Absolute toss.  this really is just prejudice and bigotry.  You are defending ignorance. 

    • treborc

       Well of course what you have said here is the opposite is it not we are seeing less and less working class people being involved and way to many middle class career politicians who are in the main hand picked by the leadership.

      • I dot

         not at a local level and certainly not at MP level in the area of the country in which I live. 

        • Brumanuensis

          Fun fact: 94% of MPS attended university vs 25% of the British population as a whole.

          • I dot

            So what?

          • Brumanuensis

            Your ‘example’ is completely out of step with the broader picture. Is what.

          • I dot

            So its a bad thing that people go to university?  And you are furthermore assuming that this figure means that only middle-class people go to university?  Is it a bad thing for a working class person to go to university as well? 

          • derek

            No? only the wealthy can afford a decent education.The undiscovered potential slipped through societies hands because the need to gain work and help feed the family members was to big an ask. 

          • I dot

             So by your definition then, anybody with a decent education is of “the wealthy”, and should therefore be ignored.

            This is the “oh he’s bright but didn’t he have bad circumstances in life” response.  Personally, I know many many people of this type.  However, none of them I would say were fit to hold political office. 

            What you really mean to say is an attack on the class-ridden nature of education policy in this country.  In this I wholeheartedly agree with you, but it’s a different issue, about education policy.  It doesn’t help much when talking about candidate selection. 

          • derek

            I’m going to tell you a story. Two boys both called Johnny attend the same school, Johnny one comes from a background where dad is a policeman and mum is a nurse, Johnny two comes from a background where dad was a Royal Marine (KIA) and his mum is pretty ill and unfit for work.Johnny one lives in a spacious 4 bedroom home with all mod cons and access to the internet.Johnny two lives in a four story flat, at the top, two bedrooms and very crapped conditions and no internet access. Johnny one will go on to do well and gain a position in university.Johnny two will for every remember his dad and how a cruel world snatched his father away from him at a very young age, Johnny two will leave school at 16 and take the first job he is offered, Johnny two had all the attributions to do well in education but Johnny two had a far more important role he wanted to play because Johnny two wanted to provide a decent living and dignity for his mother and younger brother,Johnny two could only do this by earning asap!!!!!!!!

          • I dot

             Yeah, but that means Johnny 2 is fucked up, and is probably not fit to stand for political office!  So my point stands – what you say is true of the wider system but I can’t see how it can be applied at the point of candidate selection. Its too far down the line.

          • derek

            No, Johnny two has more integrity and courage than your silver spoon feed Johnny one will ever know.  

          • Alan Giles

            “I Dot” sounds suspiciously like “Guy M” – the snobbery mixed with gutter langauge

          • Brumanuensis

            No, my point is that the composition of Parliament is skewed towards university-educated people, who, furthermore, invariably have graduated from universities with very high percentages of middle and upper-middle class individuals within their student bodies. 35% of MPs attended public schools (versus the national average of 7%). 28% of newly-elected MPs attended Oxbridge and 69% Russell Group universities, which have higher than average percentages of middle and upper-middle class attending them. Parliament is overwhelmingly middle-class.

  • I think if the Future Candidates Programme was made more rigorous (not just application form but interviews, assessment centres etc.) so that there was proper quality control, we could have Future Candidates only shortlists. The current residential (as opposed to “fast track”) Future Candidates Programme does seem to exclude SPADs, parliamentary researchers and all but the most recently elected councillors. There are a lot of middle class people but they’re middle class people who’ve had jobs in the “real world” eg. doctors, military personnel, teachers and the like.

  • John Dore


    As you seem to censor any suggestion of Unites political moves within labour, I have posted a report of that on the Labour Uncut site. Shame on you for your censorship. 

    • Brumanuensis

      Oh please. Censorship? Several contributors from LabourUncut write on this website, I’m sure they’ll mention it sometime. I’ll start take reports like that seriously when they stop twisting polling data to suit their agenda.

      • John Dore

        No their is a very sinister blocking going on, quite scary really.

        • Daniel Speight

          Strange that you should run to Labour Uncut which has a far stricter moderating policy than LL. 

  • MiHomfray

    A lot of the problems are practical. There is a network of London based professional politicos who utilise their contacts effectively. But also it’s about the expectations and demands of nursing a marginal – which do not coincide with working full time

  • Daniel Speight

    Coming at it from a different angle, maybe term limits would help. If we were to say that MPs could serve just two terms before taking a break for at least one parliament, it would make the job less appealing as a career to the Oxbridge PPE graduates. I know there would be some who find a way round this by getting a job in party HQ or whatever, but a side benefit would be that MPs would need to stay more responsive to their local communities if they were to have a chance at selection in either a new constituency or their old one.

  • The author identifies that:

    Of the 2010 intake of MPsover a third went to fee paying schools, 91% are university graduates and a third went to Oxbridge. To put this in context only 25% of the UK adult population has a degree.

    Meanwhile, some 100% of doctors, an estimated 99.9% of scientists and a very high proportion of teachers also have degrees.  I doubt he would query that “inequality”.

    We must acknowledge that higher education qualifications are an indicator of academic success and, ultimately, tend to identify the sorts of people you want to treat, train, research and lead.

    If the problem identified is that people in a certain economic situation are not getting to university then that, I suggest, is a different question requiring a very different answer than the suggestion to make it harder/impossible for currently able and qualified candidates to stand in party elections.

    • Todger

      There’s a big difference in academic qualification and intelligence, e.g., somebody with a PhD in particle physics is probably much, much more intelligent than somebody with who got their doctorate studying the sex life of the hamster.

      David Cameron got into Oxford to do a crappy PPE degree after taking three A-Levels in History of Art, History and Economics with Politics and seems to be functionally innumerate. He often gets statistics wrong and seems to have a poor grasp as per what is actually going on in the economy.

      I wouldn’t be too dazzled by academic qualifications because although policy is set by politicians (amateurs)  the actual implementation of policy is for the most part taken to completion by permanent civil servants (experts). Politicians can always avail themselves of expert advice from the most brilliantly qualified and expert people available, from home and abroad.

      All I really want is to see more honest men and women with compassionate hearts who want to serve the people of the country rather than serve themselves enter politics. I don’t really care if they are qualified or not because they can get all the help they could ever imaginably need from academia and the civil service.

      • Alan Giles

        Marvellous post and so very true. Honesty is one of the great human virtues, and you don’t need a degree in it. You can’t study for  integrity.

        • I Dot

           Which in no way suggests that people without a degree are more honest than those that have one

          • Alan Giles

            Read what I actually said: I was talking very specifically about MPs and ministers of all parties who abused the expenses system.

            I did not say that you would be more honest without a degree, merely commenting on the poor standard of many of the recent and current crop.

          • I Dot

             You claim that MPS who followed a career path of “University/Researcher to an MP/Spad/Safe seat” were more likely to abuse their expenses.  You don’t have any evidence for this assertion.  You just assume that it is true.

          • Alan Giles

            May I respectfully suggest you download a copy of the complete list of expenses fiddlers published by the Daily Telegraph in 2009 and see just how many of these fine upstanding men and women, of all parties, got caught with their fingers in the till and then read their CVs and biographies.

            As you are so much more intelligent and “intellectual” than the rest of us, I am rather surprised you hadn’t though of doing that for yourself.

            There you are – you can even learn little things from a non-university man!

      • I understand your point, and I do not suggest that a perfect correlation between academic qualification and intelligence exists.  The fact remains, however, that it is taken by many to be a reasonable proxy, and that people with more academic qualifications tend to have more successful (as measured by money, power and influence, at least) careers.

        To me the root issue is less about the outcome (i.e. that degrees confer success) but about the input (i.e. my concern is that not everyone who should get a degree or equivalent gets one and visa versa).

        So, in other words, while I understand that
        “It’s better to be sworn to an honest fool than to a lying scholar”
        Christopher Paolini
        It is also true that:
        “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
        William Shakespeare

        p.s. I feel you are unnecessarily down on certain biologists in making your point: studying the sex life of hampsters could lead to greater understanding, say, of mammalian behaviour or even infertility.  Scientific progress does not occur in a straight line…

        • Todger

          My point is that as far as academic difficulty and intelligence goes not all subjects are equivalent even when awarded at the same level. How odd that while a PPE degree wouldn’t get you through the gates of a nuclear facility to do the most menial job as a cleaner it is good enough to qualify politicians to take decisions in respect to nuclear power stations about which they have no personal understanding whatsoever: all politicians make decisions based on advice received from men and women who are deemed to be suitably qualified. This is the way it is in pretty much every government department.

          I would much prefer political decisions to be taken collectively by men and women of average intelligence but with good hearts, based on advice provided to them by assorted experts, than singular geniuses to whom men and women are more scribbles in the pages of a ledger than flesh and blood human beings. 

          But most of all I’d like a cull of PPE graduates.

           The fewer of them in British politics the better.

          • Todger


            Lest somebody get the wrong idea I hasten to add that there are no “geniuses” in British politics, least of all the shallow and superficial David Cameron et al.

        • Brumanuensis

          I agree that ‘signalling’ (to use Kenneth Arrow’s term, I think) is very important in the labour market. But I actually think the tendency to see university education in terms of a utilitarian pay-off is one of the great problems afflicting education policy in modern Britain. The idea of learning for its own sake has become lost and replaced with a sort of narrow official instrumentalism.

      • I am not quite sure you understand the concept of ‘intelligence’ and why measuring it is so problematic….

        As for Cameron’s innumeracy it is undoubtedly a learned skill as his errors are always supportive of whatever line he is trying to spin.

        A true idiot would make the ‘wrong’ errors as well.

        His real political fault appears to be laziness – he’s spent his entire privileged existence coasting comfortably along and even when he became Tory leader believed that he’d inherit a decent economy and could just be a Blair Mark II.

        And as his demeanour at PMQs increasingly shows having responsibility without power is not agreeing with him.

        • Todger

          Whether Cameron makes gaffes because he’s innumerate or   dishonest or trying to spin an issue in a more favourable way as per the Coalition doesn’t really matter because with the eyes of the media focused on him at PMQs his errors will be found out immediately and him taken to task subsequently. Thus whether he gets facts wrong because he’s ignorant (and won’t admit it) or guileful (spinning and embroidering) the net result is the same, i.e., he seems out of his depth, ill informed, incompetent and clueless. Better to admit that you are not in possession of the facts than fabricate or dissemble when under such fierce scrutiny.

          No wonder the idiot looks liverish and purple-faced so often. 

      • I Dot

        you’ve got a nasty tendency to talk down certain degree courses which do not fit your self-defined criteria.  

        “I wouldn’t be too dazzled by academic qualifications because although
        policy is set by politicians (amateurs)  the actual implementation of
        policy is for the most part taken to completion by permanent civil
        servants (experts). Politicians can always avail themselves of expert
        advice from the most brilliantly qualified and expert people available,
        from home and abroad.”

        This is just such a ridiculous comment.  You need to have criteria for asessing the desirability of different sorts of advice and knolwedge of how to work strategically.  This is much more likely to come from studying a subject such as history or politics than a hard science.  I think that you are just bigoted against degrees that aren’t hard science.

    • Brumanuensis

      Yes, but politics is not a technical science. If doctors were competent in all areas of medicine, the very concept of ‘bioethics’, for instance, wouldn’t exist. Politics is a matter of values and philosophy. Obviously all governments require technical advisers to assist them with formulating policy, but rightly we don’t give over all responsibility to technocrats, no matter how qualified, because judgement is not really something that can be taught or calculated.

      As someone educated up to postgraduate level, I’d like to assert a difference between intelligence and wisdom. The latter is a matter of experience and perception; anyone can be wise. Anyone can be intelligent, but intelligence in an academic context doesn’t necessarily translate into good policy. Lots of people with outstanding intellects are prey to all sorts of appalling deficiencies. Friedrich Frege was a brilliant mathematician and logician, who influenced, among others, Bertrand Russell, but he was also violently anti-semitic. Max Planck and Martin Heidegger were ardent Nazis.

      Ultimately, whilst a university education is a ‘good’, I really hate the suggestion that if we just got more qualified people into positions of authority, our problems would be solved. Which is why I think Todger has it spot on when he says we should desire more honest men and women with compassionate hearts in politics. 

  • Alan Giles

    Perhaps we need to look at this issue from another angle?

    Let’s take the behaviour of those MPs in Parliament – of ALL parties – who bought the HoC into disgrace three years ago with their expenses frauds.

    Most of them came up via the common route today of University/Researcher to an MP/Spad/Safe seat for whatever party they were in.

    Sadly a good private education in France, or years amongst the Dreaming Spires did nothing to inculcate straightforward honesty and decency into them, and they saw the public purse as a good way of boosting their income, at the same time that they held up their hands in faux outrage at benefit claimants etc.

    I wouldn’t have wanted to be an MP (apart from anything else as Dore constantly reminds me I am too old and the “Purple Booker” tells me I am “mad”) I couldn’t toe the party line – there are things I would agree with, and there are things I disagree with and I wouldn’t have been prepared to hold my nose and my tongue to (for example) implement Freud, especially after he became a Tory peer.  We need more independent minded MPs, not mere lobby fodder.

    Be that as it may, people of my generation might not have been able to afford to go to university (actually I don’t think I would have wanted to anyway), my main education was technical college, which many Oxbridge types would look down their noses at, but at least
    it taught us practical skills, but the one thing I never did was fiddle my expenses, and when I rose through the ranks of my profession, I actually had a thorough knowledge of my field and a reputation for honesty and fairness and hard work, which is more than can be said for many of those people shuffling around on the HoC benches today. There are far too many self-serving hypocrites in all the political parties, and that is why, now the public have rumbled them, they are held in such contempt.

    • Do you suggest Alan that all those MPs who studied at Oxbridge are dishonest but that the MPs who do not have degrees were blameless in the expenses scandal?

      Are you perhaps tarring all the current students of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge with a giant paintbrush suggesting that they are being taught to cheat/defraud others?

      Or are you suggesting that practical minded people are less inclined to be criminal?

      I see many possible insinuations from this post, none of which can be supported by any evidence I have come across.

      • Daniel Speight

        Do you suggest Alan that all those MPs who studied at Oxbridge are
        dishonest but that the MPs who do not have degrees were blameless in the
        expenses scandal?

        I couldn’t do that, but I can see an argument that those who have set their career path on the Oxbridge PPE, spad and then MP probably have a different attitude to both work and expenses than let’s say someone who has come out of something like the mines and sees it as a vocation rather than a career.

        Let’s find some examples. Well an obvious one would be David Miliband for the Oxbridge PPE’s. For those possibly looking upon the job as more of a vocation we could take Dennis Skinner, MP for Bolsover.

        Now if we took a measurement of how long they spend in the commons chamber it would of course be a no-contest owing to Dennis considering that’s what he getting paid to do.

        • Daniel this is a huge conflation of points:

          (i) Had the MP left school at 16 to become a SpAd and then an MP do you suggest their attitude would have been better than having done the same thing after studying PPE?
          (ii) Should (shadow or governmental) cabinet MPs be expected to spend as much time in the debating chamber as backbenchers?  What about the time each MP spends with their constituents?
          (iii) Is an MP who gets election in, say, their 30+’s necessarily better suited than one who is elected in their 20’s?

          I agree that the SpAd -> safe seat “parachute” is an unhealthy sign of current politics from all parties, but I would suggest it is a red herring to blame the university education for any future behaviour.

          • Daniel Speight

            I would put the Oxbridge PPE as just one part of a career path followed by many now in parliament, and many who want to get there. Which parts of the career plan fits all those who look upon an MP’s job as a career would of course be unique to the individual’s own life. I would prefer more MPs who didn’t see their membership of parliament as a career.

            So answering your points –

            (i) A 16 year old spad would probably be as obnoxious as a 21 year old one, maybe more so.

            (ii) Should David Miliband, or even Gordon Brown, be expected to spend as much time in the chamber as Dennis Skinner. Well maybe that’s setting the bar too high, but a reasonable amount of time would be better. How many days off can an average workman take without it being called into question. Ministerial time in the chamber – well that opens another can of worms – why are there so many executive posts now in parliament. If we were talking one minister per department then there would be an excuse.

            (iii) A 30 year old against a 20 year old. Or even a 40, 50 or 60 year old. Yes I think as a rule someone who has experienced living outside the Westminster bubble would be able to bring that experience into parliament which the 20 year old would not. As with any rule I’m sure there are exceptions, but remember the present state shows the rule to be reversed 180 degrees.

        • I Dot

           “those who have set their career path”

          This is just utter bigoted rubbish.  the implication that an intelligent person who has managed to get onto a good degree is by implication somehow suspect – this is what you are advocating.  Frankly it is a watered down version of the anti-intellectualism which took place during the Russian revolution and the Cultural Revolution.  It is a offensive and ignorant position. 

        • John Dore

          And bless him Skinner was the same as Heffer, two guys ridiculed by MPs from Labour, Libs and the Tories, I have seen both in action in the chamber, useless. Their rhetoric was so removed from reality it was ridiculous.

          The fact that you hold them up in virtuous wonderment speaks volumes about your judgement.

          • treborc

            You sound so much like an idiot my guess is those four people who you think are  your workers are in fact your carers.

          • Daniel Speight

             Still trolling Guy?

      • Alan Giles

        No David I am not saying ALL those who studied at Oxbridge are dishonest. Indeed, Harry Cohen and John Prescott, two working class MPs were equally as dishonest (and Prescott even has the nerve to stand as a candidate for the job of Hull Police Commissioner), but – and this is important – I am just saying that a first class honours degree does not guarantee that the person will have integrity.

        Either you are honest or you are not. Either you condone dishonesty or you don’t. I don’t which is why I point out Prescott and Cohen’s shortcomings just as much as those of Purnell and Blears.

        To me, if you wish to be involved in public life, honesty should be an absolute and non-negotiable pre-requisite. I was bought up by very poor but totally honest grandparents, and if I may say so, learned from them the difference between right and wrong at a very early age. I am sure a lot of the Blears and Purnell’s and Graylings and Goves were, too, but it seems to me that they regard their degrees as a licence to behave in a manner which they would condemn in others – Purnell talking about benefit “cheats” and “playing the system” thought there was nothing wrong in claiming £100 for a non existent cleaning bill. Surely if you are clever enough to go to Oxford you should be able to work out that it is equally wrong to exploit the system as an MP as it is as an ordinary citizen?

  • The problem is more the structure of the cursus honorum (what the Romans called their political career path) itself.

    Back in the days of Attlee and Churchill MPs were expected to do their own research and carry their own bags and paid officials like agents (of whom there were many more paid full- or part-time) tended to be grizzled old veterans with only a few bright young things at party research departments who could in any sense be described as on the political fast track.

    In Labour a trade union movement which in organisational if not gender/race terms was far more diverse also provided a genuine political schooling for the working class that gave us a good couple of generations of Labour MPs.

    We also had local government which had real power over important things and which even in relatively red or blue areas would still normally have room for significant opposition groups on councils who would also provide a practical political education. 

    But we have seen MPs vote themselves larger and larger office expenses which have been used to provide sinecures for their spouses, children and friends, unions merge themselves into a relative handful of bureaucratic colossi and the whole political system has become both vastly more centralised and vastly more polarised and un-representative at a local level (how many southern Tory councils have like mine no Labour members at all? and how many northern Labour ones have no Tories?).

    And these developments have radically transformed the way in which our political class (or caste given the degree to which it is becoming hereditary) is recruited and trained.

    Once you could acquire basic political skills and connections in trade unions, local councils and the Labour Party – however all of these institutions have now been hollowed out democratically and taken over by the legions of middle class degree holders who ‘left’ and right share the same managerialist meta-ideology and the self-interested same delusion that meritocracy is a good thing (and not a dystopian future against which the word’s inventor was trying t0 warn us).

    And in their absence the cursus honorum has indeed become a politics degree at university, an often unpaid stint as a political researcher or parliamentary assistant or whatever in an MPs office, trade union or think tank, an increasingly optional period as a councillor in a London council dominated by your party and once you’ve built (or as increasingly happens just inherited) the required network of connections, parachuting straight into a seat (sometimes in Labour’s case courtesy of a short-list designed to correct another imbalance).

    So bureaucratic interventions to address this problem can be no more than cosmetic as the problem is in the economic and social base and not in the political superstructure.

    The whole political system needs a far more radical reboot if it is to become more genuinely representative of ordinary people.

    But above all more of those ordinary people need to get off their fat apolitical arses and not just vote Labour but join it and take it and all the other local institutions that they increasingly only encounter as ‘clients’ or ‘customers’ back from the Guardian readers.

  • The point as I see it, isn’t about going to uni or not, it is about life experiences. Growing up working class, parents struggling to make ends meet, maybe having to work two jobs to get yourself through uni, working after uni in a job that means you have to struggle to have your voice heard, these are working class experiences. Great if the party can get plumbers and traffic wardens to sign up to become PPCs, but its more about life than education.

  • Km9

    It might help if our current politicians (including Jon Trickett) actually bothered to check out if there were any candidates from working backgrounds up for selection and then got behind those candidates instead of publicly endorsing their opponents. It’s pretty disheartening that these so called attempts to “get more people from working class backgrounds” into politics are completely thrown out of the water when the actual processes come into practice. I’m not interested in lip service and discussion on this topic, I want to see meaningful action … And this includes examining the costs of selections.

    • Alan Giles

      A case in point occurred at Thamesmead and Erith, a working class, and impoverished area of London (I’ll stop for a moment so that “I Dot” can go and hold his finely chiselled nose) in 2010. When the sitting MP stepped down the late Philip Gould thought it would be a marvellous opportunity to foist his 22 year old daughter Georgia on the constituency, though she had only recently come down from university and her only work experience was a part-time job in Uncle Tony’s “Faith Foundation”.

      In this conceit Mr Gould was backed up by Alistair Campbell and Tessa Jowell.

      It only failed because the sitting MP had the courage to speak out against the idea.

      It is ridiculous for Labour to complain about the nepotism of other parties when they do the same thing themselves, and lets be frank about it, if former Private Smith, who fought in Afghanistan and Euan Blair were shortlisted for the same safe seat, who would get the nomination?

      • Mike Homfray

        It also failed because the CLP didn’t wish to select her and had a very good candidate to select – Theresa Pearce MP

        • treborc

           For once they did, but many time they are the ones who fall over them selves selecting the candidate labour puts a preference on.

          • Daniel Speight

            And having myself lived in that constituency it should be remembered that we still haven’t discovered who opened the ballet box illegally at Party HQ. A scandal buried is scandal avoided I guess.

  • Sheedydi

    UThe theory is all well and good but so many will not even consider standing because they face either highly experienced former MP’s or those with a much higher level of party favour. Plus unless under an instruction for a working class short list, how many CLP’s would vote for a person who gets dirty for a living?

    • I Dot

       Lol. the theory is not “all well and good”, it is absolutely impossible to implement.  Apparently your criteria for working class is “a person who gets dirty for a living”.  This is just so ridiculous I don’t know where to start.  The lot of you are chasing the rainbow and indulging in some very offensive anti-intellectual posturing as well. 

      • Sheedydi

        In the nature of your response you immediately confirm the season why people of working class do not enter in to the political arena.
        It would seem that politics should be left to intellectuals such as yourself and those of us that do a real days work should stay out as we are obviously not blessed with the intelligence to be in your presence

        • I Dot

          “those of us that do a real days work ”

          Honestly, what a load of bigotry this thread has brought out.  This is like something from the 1950s.  A real days work! 

          This sort of idiotic comment is actually at the root of why many working-class communities are suffering from such levels of joblessness, crime and general hopelessness.  They think that only manual work is “real work”, so they don’t educate their children to gain the skills and qualifications necessary to get on in an economic environment where knowledge increasingly counts.  

          Furthermore, it is absolutely impossible to set a criteria for who is working class and who is middle class which would be acceptable to all.  If you think that this is not the case, than it would suggest to me that you are a bit thick.

  • AnotherOldBoy

    The real shock is that there are no old Harrovians in the House of Commons any more.

    • Brumanuensis

      More than enough Old Etonians to make up the difference. I wonder what the record year for Old Harrovians (let’s say, post-1945) was?

  • carolekins

    I’m glad to say that in my area(NE) most MPs have a working class background and that’s largely because trade unions have done a lot to promote bright working class people.  I think we should foster the links with trade unions and encourage people along that route.

  • CmcD

    I would like to see this more enlightened approach applied to womens selection, there is still a good deal of token gestures , so we see women who are working class have a real struggle to be noticed. I hope there is a similar program established for women as this has not had the profile it should have.

  • sue

    Eligibility criteria?? How on earth would you establish that then? It’s not about class per se (as has been said already, plenty of working-class representation here in the north and lots of Gillian Duffys too!) it’s about political awareness coupled with that old-fashioned thing a bloody social conscience. 

  • Mike T

    If we are a party that brings real working class people into power then we will attract more than the Blue so called  Labourites and I for one believe more people would support us from the  condems.

  • Daniel Speight

    Thanks to a link on the Norwich North candidate selection post I have just read Jessica Asato’s defense of the rather restricted pool candidates have been selected from in recent years. This along with David on this thread trying to justify the present makeup of the PLP is a good thing, because at least those in favour are being forced to say why rather than the issue being ignored. (It is a problem because almost the PLP leadership is now from this same social pool.)

    Now some could say they are attempting to defend the indefensible, but I don’t think that relieves those who are unhappy with what we have now to make their arguments. I will try again to look at it from a different angle, not one that I would normally view it from.

    If we compared a parliamentary election to a job application with the community the prospective candidate would like to represent, would many of these Oxbridge -> spad -> candidates really be acceptable? Of course our party system makes a nonsense of the idea of communities choosing MPs like job applicants in any other than possibly swing seats. But back to the idea of choosing from job applicants for a seriously important post. Would anyone in their right mind really take the applicant with no real world experience?

    It’s the system that’s busted and it’s across party lines.

  • Jenny Smith

    I left school at 14 1/2 with no qualifications.  I joined the LP in about 1957.  At that time the party had a working class basis so I felt at home, my family were also members and after I left and married my mother became a Rural District councillor.  She went to the Council meetings on her bike, which had a seat at the back, and a basket, usually full of items for the larder.  My father was the local Chair of the UPW.  So I was working class and still consider myself to be.  However, what became more evident over the years was that in many consituencies you were only valued if you had a degree.  So I went off and took O levels, and commercial qualifications, this helped me get a job in an Advice Agency where wewere always being trained.  It also involved a lot of reading to ensure that I did not make mistakes on the caseework.  In 1987 or 8 I did stand as a Parliamentary Candidate, but felt that many in the higher archy of that consituency looked down on me because I did not have a degree.  So in 1998 I went to University and in four terms gained a degree.  It had to be four terms because it was the only grant I could get.  All that information is the basis for the work that I have done in communities and now in my ward.  I am working class and proud of it, but what I have and others is a deep routed understandng or the world that many of our voters live in.  I respect the unlike some in our party.  Your cannot believe in many of our priciples withour understanding that many of those we seek to hand a future too are also the Salt of the Earth.  At times I see the most wonderful behaviour by those living ina poor housibng, on low wages and who work in dangerous industries and work places.  They are why some of us remain in politics and we must not forget it.

    • PeterBarnard

      Thanks, Jenny Smith. Great comment.

      • I Dot

         Lol, its not a great comment.  it is full of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors (“higher archy”).  it is hardly a good advert for working-class councillors.

  • Pingback: Working class candidates need genuine access to the political system – encouragement is not enough « John Clarke()

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