Owen Jones on the Middle Class Domination of the Houses of Parliament

I posted a piece this morning on early trade unionist campaigns to get the vote for the working class and working men into parliament and the local authorities. This was in response to the way working people have become increasingly ignored and excluded by the political class, to the point where many feel disenfranchised.

Owen Jones in Chavs describes the way parliament has become overwhelmingly upper and middle class in its composition:

We’ve seen that prominent politicians manipulated the media-driven frenzy to make political points. Like those who write and broadcast our news, the corridors of political power are deominated by people from one particular background. ‘The House of Commons isn’t representative, it doesn’t reflect the country as a whole,’ says Kevin Maguire. ‘It’s over-representative of lawyers, journalists-as-politicians, various professions, lecturers in particular … There are few people who worked in call centres, or been in factories, or been council officials lower down.’

It’s true to say MP’s aren’t exactly representative of the sort of people who live on most of our streets. Those sitting on Parliament’s green benches are over four times more likely to have gone to private school than the rest of us. Among Conservative MPs, a startling three out of every five have attended a private school. A good chunk of the political elite were schooled at the prestigious Eton College alone, including Tory leader David Cameron and nineteen other Conservative MPs.

There was once a tradition, particularly on the Labour benches, of MPs who had started off working in factories and mines. Those days are long gone. The number of politicians from those backgrounds is small, and shrinks with every election. Few than one in twenty MPs started out as manual workers, a number that has halved since 1987, despite the fact that that was a Conservative-dominated parliament. One the other hand, a startling two-thirds had a professional job or worked in business before arriving in parliament. Back in 1996, Labour’s then deputy leader John Prescott echoed the Blairite mantra to claim that ‘we’re all middle-class now’, a remark that would perhaps be more fitting if he had been talking about his fellow politicians. (p. 29)

It would be easy, but lazy, to portray parliament as a microcosm of the British class system. It isn’t, but it certainly showcases the gaping divides of modern society. When I interviewed James Purnell just before the May 2010 election that brought the Tories and their Lib Dem allies to 10 Downing Street, I put to him how unrepresentative Parliament was: two-thirds of MPs came from a professional background and were four times more likely to have attended a private school than the rest of the population. When I referred to the fact that only one in twenty MPs came from a blue-collar background, he was genuinely shocked. ‘One in twenty?’

When I asked him if this had made it more difficult for politicians to understand the problems of working-class people, he could hardly disagree. ‘Yes, indeed. I think it’s become very much a closed shop …’ For Purnell, this middle-class power grab was the result of a political system that has become closed to ordinary people.

In the build-up to the 2010 general election, a number of excited headlines claimed that trade unions were parachuting candidates into safe seats. ‘Unions put their candidates in place to push Labour to the left,’ bellowed the Times. And yet, in the end, only 3 per cent of new MPs were former trade union officials. There was no similar outrage about the number of prospective candidates with careers in the City – the sector that, after all, was responsible for the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s. One in ten new MPs had a background in financial services, twice as many as in the 1997 landslide that brought Labour to power. Politics has also increasingly been turned into a career rather than a service: a stunning one in five new MPs already worked in politics before taking the parliamentary oath. pp. 104-5).

He then contrasts with the great political figures from Atlee’s cabinet of 1945 from the working class: Nye Bevan, Ernest Bevin, and Herbert Morrison. They were a miner, farm boy and grocer’s assistant, respectively. He contrasts this with the Tory jeers about John Prescott’s working class origins.

When he entered the House of Lords, that retirement home for the ruling elite, the Telegraph’s chief leader writer scoffed: I’m not sure ermine suits John Prescott.’ the comments left by Telegraph readers on the newspaper’s website were a class war free-for-all. One passed on a friend’s hilarious description of him as ‘the builder’s bum-crack of the Labour Party’. ‘Baron Pie & Chips’ and ‘Prescott is a fat peasant’ were other witticisms, as was ‘John “here’s a little tip” Prescott’. Someone has to serve the drinks between debates!’ guffawed another. Prescott was ridiculed because some felt that by being from lowly working-class stock, he sullied the office of deputy prime minister and then the House of Lords. (p. 106).

We desperately need more working class people in parliament. And as for the Telegraph, Buddyhell over Guy Debord’s Cat has posted a long series of pieces on just how frighteningly far-right the commenters on their website are. Very many of them post horrendously racist and overtly Fascist messages. One even suggested that the Nazis were being demonised out of ignorance (!) and that this would not happen if people knew more about them. (!)
No, the Nazis are demonised because people know exactly what they are like. Hence the attempts by Nazi apologists to deny the Holocaust ever happened, or played down the number of people who were murdered. The Cat has noted that the Telegraph uses the excuse that it can’t be held responsible for what it’s commenters post, and it is therefore not responsible for the ravings of the assorted stormtroopers that post there. This won’t wash. Other website are modded, and stopping genocidal racists from advocating mass murder is one of the few infringements to the right to free speech that most people would applaud. But not, it seems, the Torygraph. Either – God help us! – the editors secretly agree with these rants, or else they are following the old tactic Enoch Powell adopted with his supporters from the Far Right. Powell actually personally wasn’t racist. He spoke Urdu, and had served on various official bodies promoting civil rights for Blacks and Asians before the infamous ‘River of Blood’ speech. See the section on him in Bloody Foreigners: Immigration and the English. He actually hated the NF, but cynically used their support.

As for the Times, this is the quintessential paper of the establishment. I’ve got a feeling it was edited for a time by the very blue-blooded Peregrine Worsthorne. Under David Leppard, it saw fit to publish the lie that Michael Foot was a KGB agent. No wonder it printed scare stories about a coming union left-wing takeover.


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13 Responses to “Owen Jones on the Middle Class Domination of the Houses of Parliament”

  1. pippakin Says:

    Reblogged this on Political Pip Spit or Swallow its up to You and commented:
    Completely agree with this Westminster is awash with self serving privilege. The country thinks politicians are paid too much? Not a problem old chap there’s this dinky little rip off called expenses, basically we can ‘earn’ what we like no questions asked…..
    But! part of the problem has to be that Labour grass roots have lost control of their constituencies. Shoeing a favoured wannabe into a stronghold constituency was a relatively rare occurrence now its blatant, those constituencies supported by one or other of the big unions also put forward able people from the ranks, that too has diminished along with much the old trade union support.
    Labour is not what it was and its loss is felt by everyone but particularly by the working class people who created it.

    • beastrabban Says:

      Thanks, Pippakin. And you’re right. There were under Blair numerous occasions where a local Labour candidate was deselected to provide a safe seat for a Tory defector from the middle classes.

  2. sdbast Says:

    Reblogged this on sdbast.

  3. Joanna Says:

    Just a thought, I wonder if any of the coalition have ever thought about the lyrics to “Rule Britannia”

    When Britain fi-i-irst, at heaven’s command,
    Aro-o-o-o-ose from out the a-a-a-zure main,
    Arose, arose from out the azure main,
    This was the charter, the charter of the land,
    And guardian a-a-angels sang this strain:

    Rule Britannia!
    Britannia rule the waves
    Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.

    I don’t know if this is apt but I have been thinking about this a long time!

    • beastrabban Says:

      One of the leading Tories intervened by Adam Curtis in one of his documentaries on Thatcher and the abuse of history said ‘Rule Britannia’ was one of his favourite songs. he then tried singing it, but couldn’t remember the words. And yes, there is an irony there that it’s a favourite patriotic British tune, Britons were slaving when it was first composed in the 18th century by Thomas Arne, and are now being forced into slavery by Workfare. Not that the Coalition and the DWP see it like that.

  4. vicmart009 Says:

    Reblogged this on vicmart009.

  5. Mike Sivier Says:

    Reblogged this on Vox Political.

  6. Barry Davies Says:

    I wonder if this has been the case since the Unions were hammered, I haven’t tried to find out the figures it is just a thought. People tend to respect those who have positions higher than their own, this used to include many Union leaders who would stand up and be heard, whether nationally or locally, with the demise of these people it seems to be who do we vote for and the different parties seem to have started to attract would be politicians from much the same basis. The working man/woman has lost the voice to be able to make a difference and this is reflected in the way those at the bottom of the pile are being abused with zero hours contracts frozen incomes and sanctions, whilst the ones at the other end of the spectrum get large increases in their incomes. Certainly it is hard to differentiate the policies of the old three parties who seem to just follow each others lead when it comes to deciding which way to go. I think that there needs to be moderate capitalism, for a healthy economy, but unfortunately todays politicians expect that moderate capitalism isn’t enough, and have veered severely to the right wing, much as in America. The Champagne socialists endemic to the labour parties present members of the shadow cabinet are not the answer to bring balance back to British politics.

  7. Ian Jd Andrews Says:

    Not only does the Torygraph allow the racist comments through, they actively “Mod” any comment harsh to the Govt or pointing out true facts, I know after 5 attempts to reply to a particularly nasty Tory troll on there with none actually published to the site I got the message loud and clear

    • beastrabban Says:

      Sorry you haven’t been able to present the Left-wing reply to their arguments and lies. I’m not surprised, however. But as it’s the case that they censor Left-wing critics, then clearly they are capable of censoring the racists and Nazis. They obviously don’t want to, and are deliberately trying to get their support.

  8. wwilmawatts Says:

    Reblogged this on Ignoramuses guide to Independence.

  9. J.P. Craig-Weston Says:

    Interesting article, (thank you,) and chilling to see what we all know put down in writing so clearly and in black and white.

    But the reason that I finally stopped reading the DT, (a couple of years back, after 30 years reading it regularly,) was in fact the extent to which my own, (and other people’s,) comment’s were being regularly edited and even sometimes almost rewritten by the increasingly heavy handed censors, (moderators.)

    Freedom of speech, (is anyone here old enough to remember that,) always includes the right to offend and to say things that some people don’t necessarily want to hear; whilst all this hysterical nonsense about, “Nazis,” “Pedophiles,” and “Terrorists,” is always used to somehow justify this kind of crude and heavy handed censorship, meanwhile the real Nazis, (for me Blair and Straw exemplify perfectly what has been called, “The utter banality of evil,” are safely ensconced behind that, all to convenient, wall of secrecy and intimation, (particularly useful when undertaking a government cull of all those traditional Labor supporters, the old, the disabled and the unemployed.)

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