Wednesday, July 25, 2007

How representative of Britain are our parliamentary parties?

Given that the chattering classes like to talk about how voters no longer relate to parliament, I thought it would be useful to look at how representative of Britain the main political parties are. The theory is that the more representative the parties are, the more likely the public will feel affinity with parliament (rather than think of them as "others", who are nothing like them), and the more likely that the opinions of the public are reflected in parliament (in the sense that gender and background always inform and colour the viewpoints of the persons concerned).

First of all gender. Just over 50% of the population is female. Here's the breakdown in parliament:

Labour: 97 women MPs (27% of Labour MPs)
Tories: 17 women MPs (9% of Tory MPs)
LibDems: 9 women MPs (14% of LibDem MPs)

So none of the parties reflects the gender balance of the nation, though Labour is well ahead of the others.

Next up, education. 7% of current students go to public school. 88% of current students go to comprehensives and 5% of current students go to grammar schools. The following data on Parliament comes from the Sutton Trust:

Labour: 18% of MPs went to public school
Tories: 59% of MPs went to public school
LibDems: 39% of MPs went to public school

Labour: 53% of MPs went to state comprehensives
Tories: 20% of MPs went to state comprehensives
LibDems: 41% of MPs went to state comprehensives

Labour: 29% of MPs went to state selective schools
Tories: 21% of Tories went to state selective schools
LibDems: 20% went to state selective schools.

Most of the MPs who went to state selective schools (aka grammar schools) are over 40. As time goes on, they will dwindle as a % of MPs, reflecting the abolition of grammars in most parts of the country in the 1970's.

Regarding university attendance the figures are as follows:

Labour: 67% of MPs went to university
Tories: 83% of MPs went to university
LibDems: 81% of MPs went to university

All the parties have been increasing the number of graduate MPs over time (in 1964 the figures for MPs who had attended university were Labour 42%, Tories 63% and LibDems 78%).

I am most surprised by the LibDem figures for public schools. Most LibDem MPs entered parliament in 2001 and 2005. Their public school MPs are not a legacy of candidate selection policies of 20 or 30 years ago, in the way some of the Tory public school MPs are accounted for.

Considering ethnic minorities, 7.7% of the UK population is non-white and 92.3% is white. There are only a total of 15 ethnic minority MPs in parliament out of the 646 MPs (2.3%). 13 are Labour and 2 are Tories. None are LibDems. The two Tory ethnic minority MPs entered parliament in 2005.

Obviously Labour is the most representative of Britain as it actually is (though they could increase the number of women and ethnic minorities).

The Tory position looks awful - but some of that is down to legacy. They got decimated in 1997, hardly improved in 2001 and gained only a modest number of MPs in 2005. Lots of their fuddy-duddy male public school MPs were elected in the Thatcher years or before. Until this "old guard" retires it is unlikely that they will get to govern Britain as the assertive modern voter no longer tolerates the idea of "elites" who are nothing like them, ruling over them. If they had any sense they would be trying to deselect as many of the old guard as possible and replacing them with more normal people. But Cameron and Osborne and co are handicapped by the fact that they too are part of the elite public school brigade. To give Michael Howard credit though, he did put through two ethnic minority MPs and more women in 2005.

But the big surprise is the LibDems. They prattle the most about "representative democracy" (aka proportional representation), but they don't exactly practice it in-house. Unlike the Tories, they don't have the excuse of "legacy" MPs. Most LibDem MPs entered parliament in the last decade. You would have thought that like Labour they would seek to have more comprehensive school educated people, more women, more ethnic minorities - but this is not the case.

You get a glimpse of this looking at who attends the party conferences. Labour has the broadest range of people from all backgrounds, creeds and colours. And while the toffs are heavily represented in the Tories, they do have a minority of self-made working class Tories that Thatcher attracted to their party - and these working class Tories are the most hostile to the elitist Cameron - in a peculiar Tory way, the grammar school row was covert class-war row, as Nick Robinson observed.

The LibDems though tend to be awfully nice white middle class people, the narrowest group of all. This is why they are the third party and failed to break through and become "the real opposition". Charlie Kennedy masked this narrowness temporarily when he was leader because of his egalitarian Scottish tone. Since he's gone, they've fallen back, as people look at them and think, they don't really represent me. If the LibDems really want to break through, they need to broaden their tent. But this means dealing with people from very different backgrounds whose views might not be as "pure" as their own. Do they really want to do this? My impression is that the LibDems find this too distateful to bother with.

P.S. Regarding ethnic minorities, someone pointed out to me that the SNP have an ethnic member in the Scottish Parliament and Plaid Cymru have an ethnic member in the Welsh Assembly. This means that of the five major parties (Conservatives, labour, LibDems, SNP and Plaid) the LibDems are the only party to have no ethnic representative at Westminster, the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly. And they don't appear to be disposed to readdress this either.


Anonymous said...

Excellent exposé!

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I'm male, old, white, and educated at a state selective school and university. My MP is female, middle aged, white, and educated at a state selective school and university.

So what.

Given the FPTP system parties, apart from the safe Labour and Tory seats, don't really have any way to determine the demographics of their successful candidates.

Anonymous said...

Combating elitism through education must be a primary motivation for centre left politicians in the UK.

Great article snowy

Archie said...

Excellent research which is very eye-opening.

A lot of work to be done to redress many balances. Labour needs to look at ways to avoid having too many University graduate, privately educated MPs if it is to buck the trend that is taking it farther away from those it aims to represent

Anonymous said...

Hmm - but what % of the Labour cabinet went to public school ?