Adittya Chakrabortty is wrong to say House of Commons is “ever more remote”. It’s more diverse than it’s ever been

by Stephen Tall on April 2, 2013

House of Commons. Crown Copyright applies to this photo - http://www.flickr.com/photos/uk_parliament/4642915654/Last week, Mary Reid published an excellent couple of articles — Changing culture is a long term project – the past; and its companion piece: the future — highlighting social progress achieved in her lifetime.

One area she didn’t mention is the way parliament is much more diverse today than it has been in the past. I mention it today in part at least to respond to Aditya Chakrabortty’s post in today’s Guardian (David Miliband and the debasement of British politics) which perpetuates the seductive myth that “our elected representatives are ever more remote from the rest of us”.

Really? “Ever more remote”? Let’s have a look at the evidence…

The following figures are all from the House of Common paper published after the 2010 general election, Social background of MPs (PDF).

Proportion of women MPs

1979: 3%
2010: 22%

women mps

Average age of MPs

1979: 49.6 years old
2010: 49.9 years old

Note: there are now 15 MPs under the age of 30. In 1979, there were just 6.

Number of non-white MPs

1979: 0
2010: 27

There were no non-white MPs in the House of Commons until 1987. The proportion today is just 4%.

Occupations of MPs

Aren’t all MPs now just lawyers, journalists and public sector workers? Where are the business-people? Actually representation of the former has decreased since 1979, while the latter has increased.

It is certainly the case, however, that the rise of the political class (special advisers etc) is clear to see. It is also true that there has been a big shift from manual to white-collar representation. Though the proportion of manual workers has fallen since the 1970s (from c.50% to c.33%) the decrease in parliamentary representation has been sharper.

Barrister/solicitor: DOWN… 1979 = 56%; 2010 = 41%
Public sector: DOWN… 1979 = 17%; 2010 = 11%
Publisher/journalist: DOWN… 1979 = 7%; 2010 – 6%
Farmer: DOWN… 1979 = 4%; 2010 = 2%
Manual worker: DOWN… 1979 = 16%; 2010 = 4%
Miner: DOWN… 1979 = 3%; 2010 = 1%

Doctor: SAME… 1979 = 1%; 2010 = 1%

Business: UP… 1979 = 22%; 2010 = 25%
White collar: UP… 1979 = 2%; 2010 = 14%
Politician/political organiser: UP… 1979 = 3%; 2010 = 15%

Education of MPs

There are now FEWER public school and Oxbridge educated MPs than there were in 1979. The proportion of University graduates has increased:

mps education

In summary

The House of Commons is by no means representative of the population it serves. Aditya Chakrabortty is right to highlight the decline in working class representation; though wrong to suggest that MPs are less local than they were. There are still too few women and ethnic communities represented. But overall the House of Commons is less unrepresentative than it was. The progress is slow, too slow. But in almost all areas there has been progress.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.