Changing Nature of UK Political Elite

22 Apr 24

Changing Nature of UK Political Elite

Representation matters to voters. They wish to see greater social diversity in parliament, want greater representation by individuals with lived experience similar to their own, and which is grounded in locality and in social class.

However, Oxford authors of a new paper, The Changing class and educational composition of the UK political elite since 1945: implications for representation, published in British Politics, examine the social background of all Labour and Conservative Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet members since 1945.  They explain that while there has been no decline in the proportion of the Labour leadership from working-class origins, there has been an almost complete disappearance of those with adult experience of working-class life. 

The research also shows that changes in the class origins and previous employment of the Conservative leadership do not suggest any weakening in the party’s capacity to represent their social base. In fact, the increasing proportion of Conservative cabinet members from a small business-owning background suggests that there is a social basis for a more right-wing position on both economic and social issues.

Professor Geoffrey Evans, Nuffield Politics Research Centre, University of Oxford, said:

‘This lack of representation has two important implications. First, the recent tendency for former working-class Labour voters to stay at home on election-day, or defect to another party, is likely to reflect their alienation from the political process because of a lack of representatives who can claim to have adult experience of working-class life. Many working-class people no longer believe that Labour represents them. Second, there is evidence that politicians’ previous employment experience influences the policy programmes they advocate when in power. The lack of political leaders with experience of working class life serves to limit the emergence of policies that address the concerns of working class people.’

The authors, Erzsébet Bukodi, Geoffrey Evans, John H. Goldthorpe and Matthew Hepplewhite, undertook a new, comprehensive survey of the class and educational composition of the membership of Conservative and Labour cabinets and shadow cabinets since 1945. Read the full paper.

Recent coverage in The Guardian.