Labour launches search for working-class voices

David Cornock
Parliamentary correspondent, Wales


Are there too many middle-class politicians? Or, to put it another way, are there too few politicians from working-class backgrounds?

A senior Labour MP says there aren't enough working-class people in Parliament - or the National Assembly for Wales.

Jon Trickett, who has been asked by Ed Miliband to find more Labour candidates from working class backgrounds, says it's a problem at every level of society, from magistrates to MEPs.

The shadow cabinet office minister is running Labour's "future candidates programme" which is designed to increase the diversity of candidates.

Mr Trickett told The Westminster Hour on Radio 4 that the traditional routes into politics had changed in a country where more people work in call centres than in mines.

He said: "We've got to convince people that if a democracy is to truly function then people like us can become members of parliament." He said Labour were looking for people from all kinds of different, diverse backgrounds - "not the usual kind of suspects who come from a political professional background".

Labour, he said, would offer potential candidates "a huge amount of support" with training and mentoring to overcome financial and cultural barriers.

"He {Ed Miliband} thinks there is a breakdown between the closed circles which run British society and the broad mass of people and one of the ways of opening this up is to change the way parliament works.

"I'm not simply speaking about the House of Commons here because every level of our society the same problem exists, whether it's for councillors, members of the magistrates' bench, school governors, MEPs , members of the Welsh assembly.

"Wherever you have authoritative voices speaking on behalf of 'the establishment' you will have the same problem and so I want to, not put a stick of dynamite under that, but certainly over a period of time see change happen."

He said change would be incremental and Labour's selection process, as parliamentary seats become available, would be monitored.

It's not clear how you define working-class. The former Plaid Cymru MP, Adam Price, has described Leanne Wood as "the only working-class leader of a major party in Britain today" but is someone who's been a well-paid professional politican for almost a decade really be described as working class?

There does seem to be a cross-party consensus, at least at Westminster, that there are too many professional politicians who have never worked outside politics, a career path that has tended to exclude those who don't come from middle-class backgrounds.

Update: A Welsh Labour spokesperson said: "Welsh Labour will always work to ensure that candidates are representative of society and the communities in which they seek election. The vanguard of female representation in the Welsh assembly, Welsh Labour has long played a leading role in ensuring fairness and equality through our selection process and we will continue to do so."