Britain needs more MPs educated in the state sector


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The Independent Online

There is so much more to politics than the unseemly shouting match into which Prime Minister’s Questions often descends. Unfortunately, that is the aspect of parliamentary life that the public sees most often. It conveys the impression that there is no point in entering the alien world of Parliament unless you are armed with exaggerated self-confidence that a private education and early training in university debating societies can give you.

If that were all there is to politics, it might not matter that a third of the current crop of MPs, and almost a third of candidates in winnable seats, are drawn from the 7 per cent of the population who have been privately educated.

Actually, braying across a crowded debating chamber during Prime Minister’s Questions is only a tiny part of what MPs do, and by no means the most important. The best of them spend countless hours helping constituents with everyday problems, or helping scrutinise proposed new legislation line by line, or contributing to the detailed reports compiled by select committees, or fighting good causes.

What this work requires is a sympathetic understanding of how people live and what they want from government. No one needs to have been a pupil at Eton College to acquire that kind of basic wisdom.

There is no reason why some of those who have had a privileged start should not enter politics, but if too many MPs come from the same small section of the community then attitudes and forms of self-expression that appear rather odd or downright unsympathetic to most people will seem normal inside the confines of Parliament.

The political system we live in is called representative democracy, but we are far too short of representatives whose experience of life is closer to what most people count as normal.