Sunday, 15 January 2012

A working class MP is something to be.

More working class people would stand for parliament if the selection system was more favourable to them says Labour MP Dame Anne Begg in an interview for

Even though, in her opinion, this is the most representative parliament ever there is still a noticeable ‘narrowing of the people who can afford to be an MP’ and encouraging more people from lower socioeconomic groups into professional politics is the next big battle facing diversity campaigners.

The big stumbling block for potential candidates is the cost involved; Anne Begg cites the case of one prospective MP who had to spend £60,000 just to get selected by his local party. Even if this is an extreme case it is evident that many prospective MPs have to spend thousands of pounds on moving into the constituency they wish to represent. This, as Anne Begg rightly points out, is ‘just too expensive for anyone who doesn’t have a reasonable income from work or money behind them.’

Amongst the measures she advocates for levelling the playing field for less wealthy candidates is capping the amount they can spend at £10,000 and using something similar to Labour’s ‘all women shortlists’ to bring people in form lower socioeconomic groups. This last enthusiasm has already attracted criticism from the likes of Davis Cameron who said of Labour’s all women shortlists that they allowed the party to ‘practice oppression and call it equality.’

If you leave aside her silliness in calling a parliament where the cabinet is stuffed with millionaires and there are more lawyers than lorry drivers on the Labour benches the most representative parliament ever Anne Begg is unquestionably on the right track. We certainly do need to encourage people with a wider range of life experiences into parliament, unfortunately as is so often the case her good intentions founder on the rocks of cynical reality.

For example, closing shortlists to everyone apart from candidates from one particular social group is not the panacea it at first seems. Quite the reverse in fact, it can easily be abused by unelected party officials as a means of getting rid of awkward candidates and trampling wholesale on the wishes of grassroots party members.

If we are serious about making parliament more representative serves then a concerted effort has to be made to revive grassroots democracy within political parties and in the communities of which they are part. A common characteristic of the most effective and independent minded MPs, whatever background they come from, is that they learnt the trade of politics through serving an apprenticeship in local government and community activism.

Actually we need to go back even further, to before prospective members of parliament are even old enough to cast their vote. It is a matter of shame that the teaching of ‘civics’ in the British education system is at best patchy and more often non existent.

The problem is all these things will take time and parliament is filled to the rafters with thrusting young men and women who are all in a hurry. They want quick solutions or quick means by which an issue can be kicked into the long grass and bringing about the sort of profound political change necessary to make parliament more representative of the wider population requires the playing of a long game they don’t understand.

Pigs in trouble

Cartoon character Peppa Pig is, allegedly, to blame for making children naughty, rude and demanding; worse still she is guilty of encouraging them to splash in muddy puddles.

I have had a soft spot for Peppa Pig ever since she snubbed New Labour during the 2010 general election and don’t like to see her traduced in this way. If children are naughty, rude and demanding it has everything to do with their being subjected to parenting that is inconsistent and sometimes neglectful and nothing whatsoever to do with the antics of a cartoon pig.

As for the splashing in muddy puddles, in moderation at least, that isn’t naughty; it’s called being a kid.

A train down the drain

The government has given the go-ahead to the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project, this, so we’re told, is a good thing. It is going to create jobs, revive the economy of whole regions and there has even been some excitable talk that it might carry ambitious Transport Secretary Justine Greening all the way to Downing Street.

It all sounds very grand but as is the way of such things it is a total fantasy. Between now and the completion date some time in the 2020’s the already eye watering costs of the project will have ballooned just as those of the Olympics have and technology might well have made the whole thing unnecessary anyway. Far from making Ms Greening’s career being associated with HS2 could shunt it permanently into the sidings.

One thing is clear though, when it hacks its way through the Chilterns HS2 will also cut through nine currently Tory constituencies; which is probably how many MPs UKIP will return at the next election.

And finally, worrying rumours have emerged that thanks to Disney children’s classic Winnie the Pooh has been overwhelmed by Americanisms, making the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood all sound like characters from The Wire. Asked about the claims this week Christopher Robin told the BBC that ‘the whole thing is a goddam dirty lie.’

So nothing to worry about there then.

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