Unthinkable? All working-class shortlists | Editorial

According to MP Denis McShane, political parties should reserve 10% of their candidacies for minimum wage workers

It was, of all people, John Prescott who said “we’re all middle class now“. The former shop and ship steward was rightly reluctant to play the working-class hero while drawing a ministerial salary. But however they’re labelled, people like Prescott are becoming an endangered political species. The loss of 73 former manual workers from the green benches since 1979 has made way for the arrival of 69 professional apparatchiks of the sort who now lead all three parties. There is probably less working-class representation than at any time since the universal franchise. Just as the gender balance has had to be tackled, so the social mix really ought to be. All-women shortlists addressed the former, but a moment’s reflection points to serious snags with drawing up an “all working-class” list. You could ask candidates whether they ate dinner, supper or tea, but you’d need a latter-day Nancy Mitford to disentangle the significance. You could look into the background – but how deeply? These days Labour MPs boast of a mining grandfather to establish their credentials, but on that principle Kate Middleton could stand on a cloth-cap ticket, seeing as one of the roots of her family tree reaches down a mine. It all seems unthinkable, but Labour MP Denis MacShane suggests a way through the mire: each party would reserve 10% of its candidacies for workers on the minimum wage. That would bring the low-paid’s share of seats into rough line with their place in the workforce – and truly break open the palace.

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