It is true the proportion of British people who are working class has fallen over the past half century. But the decline in the number of working-class MPs has happened twice as fast...
There are far too many people who are struggling today and there are far too many politicians who just do not have an understanding of what it’s like
“There are far too many people who are struggling today and there are far too many politicians who just do not have an understanding of what it’s like”, Angela Rayner said at a recent IPPR event.
Rayner is the exception to this rule. Few other parliamentarians saw school as “the chance for me, in essence, to get a hot meal at lunchtime”. Something that will be all too common for children up and down the country this winter.
Just seven percent of MPs today can be considered working class, compared with 34% of all UK working-age adults, a new IPPR study finds. Only about one percent of the current Conservative MPs entered parliament from a working-class job.
And while 13% of Labour MPs joined parliament from a working-class occupation, this proportion has halved since the 1980s. At the same time there has been a rise in the number of ‘career politicians’ and those entering Parliament from the worlds of finance and business.
It is true the proportion of British people who are working class has fallen over the past half century. But the decline in the number of working-class MPs has happened twice as fast.
The social and economic backgrounds of MPs has a profound impact on public policy. Working-class parliamentarians focus on quite a different set of policies, often relating to inequality and economic injustice, than their middle- and upper-class counterparts. Across Europe, cabinets in the post-war period with more working-class ministers made welfare spending more generous than cabinets with few working-class ministers, above and beyond the partisan hue of the government.
Despite this, too many politicians fail to recognise the connection between their position in the world and their interpretation of it.
Indeed, it is no coincidence that the value of work and workers in our society eroded as working-class representation in British politics waned.
The low-wage crisis of the past decade – wages flatlined while wealth boomed – is not an outcome you would expect in a politically equal democracy. But it is a feature of a democracy where those with wealth and affluence have greater sway over policy than those without.
Politics is often mistaken as a technocratic contest over who is most competent to enact an agreed upon set of policies. But, as Russell Muirhead put it, “Democratic politics is not just a tool to ‘get it right’, it is a contest over what it means to get it right.” It matters who’s at the contest. And who isn’t.
Democratic politics is not just a tool to ‘get it right’, it is a contest over what it means to get it right.
Political parties are where ideologies are formed and impressed onto society. Parliament is where issues are debated and agendas set. Government is where major policy decisions are made. In each the voice of working-class communities has been hollowed out.
Eventually, parties will have to face this representation gap, for electoral reasons if nothing else. Working-class people form a large and diverse constituency. Still powerful enough to win, or lose, you an election. And the dwindling number of working-class candidates have frayed party loyalties – votes are there to be won.
As political parties selectparties are select candidates to stand in the next general election, they would be wise to put up more working-class people.