LabourList on the crisis of working class representation

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

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.

 

from LabourList 23 July 2012

LabourList on business candidates

Party to seek more candidates from the business community – whether they are members or not

At Labour’s first annual business reception – which we told you about yesterday– the party will unveil a plan to gain more councillors and MPs from the business community, through the future candidates programme. So far the programme has been mainly aimed at getting more working class and other under-represented groups into elected office – but that has now been expanded. According to the party:

“A special stream of the party’s Future Candidates Programme will be launched for applicants with business backgrounds. This will involve matching applicants with a mentor who is a senior Labour representative, for example an MP.

 

This will complement the representatives of business already in Labour’s ranks in Parliament and elsewhere. Every member of Labour’s shadow Business, Innovation and Skills team in the House of Commons has worked in business or run their own firm.

Potential applicants do not need to be Labour Party members to apply, but they should share Labour values and be willing to join if selected to take part in the programme. “

Whilst Labour does lack business experience in the PLP, that last sentence might be a cause of concern for some members. Joining a party to become a candidate isn’t necessarily the best way to get the best MPs and councillors…

Related posts:

  1. A business party must be a better party
  2. Becoming the Party of business
  3. Dear leadership candidates: The party comes first
  4. After Ian Gibson, do party members still count?
  5. Labour to hold first “annual business reception”

 

from LabourList 17 July 2012

Scottish Executive Committee Report July 2012

The July SEC meeting is traditionally quiet given the summer holidays and that was reflected in the agenda and attendance.

Political reports focused on the launch of the Better Together campaign and the contrast in style with the Yes campaign launch. Consultations had continued over the establishment of Scottish Labour’s Devolution Commission. There is an urgent need to establish the Commission and to start work. Politically, to avoid the No question simply being a status quo option. Organisationally, because time is getting tight as the Commission has to report to the 2013 Annual Conference next April. It is the SEC that has the obligation to action conference decisions and this matter needs to be finalised by the next SEC meeting.

Westminster discussion focused on the inquiries by the Scottish Affairs Committee into separation and black listing of trade union members. Both were covering subjects that were not covered elsewhere very effectively. The Scottish Affairs Committee has had a new lease of life since Ian Davidson took over as chair.

At Holyrood the performance of Johann at FMQs was putting the Scottish Government under effective scrutiny. The major bill before the recess was the Police and Fire Reform Bill. While a single force was Labour manifesto commitment, aspects of the Bill including accountability and finance had been highlighted. Taking police officers off frontline duties to cover police staffs was recognised as economic madness.

The first CoSLA meeting had been held since the elections and Scottish Labour were in a strong position with David O’Neil being elected President. Relationships with the Scottish Government, while constructive, will be harder edged under the new leadership. Local government should regain its own voice.

The main agenda item was a draft guidance booklet on the CLP reorganisation from Westminster to Holyrood boundaries. While the option of a traditional delegate structure remains in the rule book, CLPs will be encouraged to move to an all member meeting model. The reduction in effective branches may make this inevitable, but the option remains in the future for CLPs who can regain membership levels hollowed out during the New Labour period.

A number of CLPs had understood that branches were to be abolished as well. This is emphatically not the case and CLPs will have the option to retain and create branch structures as they see fit.

There was also a discussion on the new Local Campaign Forums that replace Local Government Committees. A number of changes were agreed to strengthen these new bodies that should rightly put a new focus on campaigning. One big weakness of the new structure is accountability of councillors. This doesn’t appear in the objectives of LCFs and with fewer branches as well, appears to be lost. In fairness it was always unclear under the old rules and depends more on effective members. It is also unclear how the candidate contracts will operate in the new arrangements. LCFs are something Revitalise may need to return to, as others across the UK have also recognised.

The amended guidance will be circulated to CLPs this week and all member meetings will be held over the next few months, before the new structures formally start on 1 January. The new arrangements may be a realistic response to the current state of the party, but it remains to be seen if they will create the more open and transparent party most of us want.

Finally, the SEC approved some minor changes to the standing orders of the Scottish Parliamentary Labour Group.