Monday, July 17, 2006

Working-class MPs: A good or bad thing?

Commenting on the death of former miner and Labour MP Kevin Hughes, the former Europe minister Denis MacShane has lamented the decline of working-class representation in Parliament - historically speaking the original raison d'etre for the Labour Party's existence.

Macshane blames it on Margaret Thatcher and her destruction of the coalfield communities, but for my part, I put it more down to the progressive convergence between left and right and the resulting homogenisation of MPs' social backgrounds, as well as the narrowing of the window of social opportunity that existed in the 1960s and 70s for the likes of ambitious working-class boys like John Prescott and Alan Milburn.

Either way, Macshane's comments have provoked what, to say the least, is an interesting reaction on the otherwise excellent Labour Watch site, whose author writes: "It is difficult to argue convincingly in support of the idea of more MPs like Dave Anderson, John Cummings, and Ronnie Campbell in parliament."

Shame on him! Quite apart from the fact that the trio he singles out are all from the North-East - a bit region-ist for a Lib Dem, don't you think? - the constituencies they represent are all themselves heavily working-class.

Is Labour Watch seriously arguing that consittuencies such as Easington and Blyth Valley with large numbers of former mineworkers would be better represented by policy wonks like David Miliband or law lecturers like Stephen Byers as opposed to, er, former mineworkers like Cummings and Campbell?

As MacShane quite rightly says: "We have fewer and fewer working-class Labour MPs like Kevin Hughes now, and parliament is the poorer as a result."

free web site hit counter


Inamicus said...

My politics have never been class driven, but perhaps I should clarify my thinking - it is important that parliament remains representative rather than homogenised - but my argument is mainly aimed against some of the less effective of the "working class" Old Labour MPs.

Over the decades there have been inspiring examples of working class MPs in the Labour tradition - Burns, Bevan, Bevin spring to mind - but they were passionate advocates of what they believed in and energetically represented their constituents' interests.

I don't think the same can be said of some of the dinosaurs on the backbenches today.

In addition, the concluding part of McShane's remarks - that the coalmines provided an important school for the training of working class Labour leaders - is to my mind evidence of the double standards Labour now has over its past. It will pay lip service to its former ideals to try and con its traditional support that it still espouses those Old Labour values whilst privately not believing a word of it any more.

skipper said...

I think Inamicus is right that in the past there has tended to be a bloc of trade union MPs who regarded being in the House as part of their retirement and who did not exert themselves to do much beyond obeying the whips. It would be nice if all working class MPs were as able as Bevin, Bevan or indeed, Alan Johnson but in the past such names have been exceptions rather than the rule. And I don't think it's going to improve either. Able working class youngsters now tend to not to be drawn into education by WEA and Extra-Mural classes followed by Ruskin but rather, step onto the established HE ladder. They develop their abilities but risk becoming thereby socialized, to some extent, into middle class ways of thinking. Maybe it's a shame but things change and move on as always. The same social process has seen those outlying educational agencies mentioned above(and I was once a director of one such department at Manchester) decline and fade away.

Anonymous said...

it might - at the risk of boring peolle - be useful to se directly the responses that LW got on this piece........................

old stocktonian said...
"LW doesn't agree - it is difficult to argue convincingly in support of the idea of more MP's like Dave Anderson, John Cummings, and Ronnie Campbell in parliament."

So what is wrong with the above three who all have a fine rcord of supporting their working class communities ?

3:09 PM

Anonymous said...
shock horror, greg stone lib dem councillor in newcastle! doesn't see the value of the working class or its representation in the corridors of power - and also doesn't see the value in strong community trade union links.

Ergo, greg stone = scab

3:32 PM

Inamicus said...
Au contraire. Besides, don't we all live in a classless society now?

There is a good argument for parliament to be as representative of society as possible, but all groups in society have the right to expect that their representative represents all classes and all members of society in their constituency as effectively as possible - and that they elect someone with the ability, intellect, and judgement to do so.

I would suggest that those named have *not* managed to excel in this regard.

Anderson has a chip on his shoulder about people who aren't working class and is reluctant to spend time around them - famously walking out of a selection meeting because he was so uncomfortable about having to socialise with "middle-class" Labour members.

Cummings may have a huge majority in Easington but during his time as the local MP Easington has remained at or close to the bottom of the league tables for health, education, and social disadvantage - and generally politically unenlightened, as indeed is Cummings himself (LW remembers having to share a platform with him on the topic of Europe and regional development, only to find he had very little knowledge of either and very little of coherence to say).

Ronnie Campbell - we're just repeating the Times's opinion.

Anyone who has spent much time observing Old Labour politics in places like Doncaster or the North East can be forgiven for being a little less than starry-eyed about the romanticism of "strong community trade union links".

4:00 PM

old stocktonian said...
Well, lets look at this. Dave Anderson might have a 'chip on his shoulder' but he got selected handsomely by the party members in Blaydon and went on to become the MP against his LibDem opponent. In terms of Easington, it's not John Ciummings fault that there are problems with health and aocial disadvantage on his patch - its the system, stupid. In a sense perhaps Greg should blame himself for similar problems in parts of Newcastle. And finally , to slag off Ronnie Campbell just because The Times does is a bit of odd analysis indeed......

4:07 PM

Paul Linford said...
Sorry but I've had to have a go at you over this....hope you get a few extra hits as a result though!

4:12 PM

Inamicus said...
Anderson - for selected handsomely, read union stitch-up, though clearly he did achieve a good result at the GE

Cummings - surely there's more to it than "blaming the system" though? Why is it that Easington has fared even worse than neighbouring areas? What has Cummings done to effectively change or even challenge the long term decline since he got elected in 87? Perhaps you could check his record in Hansard - one speech a year is about his limit.

Ronnie: good at fighting in curry houses, less effective at fighting for his constituents. He's not unpopular in these parts though for his announcement before the local elections that Labour government policy was encouraging Labour supporters to vote Lib Dem.

4:25 PM

skipper said...
I broadly agree with Inamicus. Any study of Labour history reveals a block of pretty static former trade unionist MPs who tended merely to sit out their later years on the backbenches; almost like the Labour equivalents of the Tory knights of the shires. There were outstanding people like Bevinand Bevan but they were the exceptions rather than the rule. But it is a pity however, that these days we're apparetnly denied such genuine talents, apart, amybe from the occasional likes of Alan Johnson...

5:16 PM

Old Stockttonian said...
Andwerson ? Union stitch-up ? There were at least three TU's backing their favourite. I hear Davy got in on the vots of the rank and file members. Why is Easignton so bad ? Can you remember the word 'mining' and what that did to ill-health and the social isolation that hit a one industry town when thta industry died ? Remember that it took COnsett over two decades to pull round even a small bit.And you haven't answered my point about The Times and why you aping their assessment of an MP who they know little of and care about even less. (and by the way a lot of people in Blyth Valley would disagree with you about Ronnies ability to represent their needs and interests.

5:20 PM

Denis MacShane (Merton College, Oxford and PhD at the University of London; no relation of Paul):

"We have fewer and fewer working-class Labour MPs now, and parliament is the poorer as a result. The destruction of Britain's coal-mining industry by Margaret Thatcher has not only left Britain at the mercy of energy politics controlled by outsiders but also done away with a school to train working-class Labour leaders"

LW doesn't agree - it is difficult to argue convincingly in support of the idea of more MP's like Dave Anderson, John Cummings, and Ronnie Campbell in parliament.

In addition, although there are good reasons to bemoan the decline of the coal industry and its effects on mining communities, anyone who has encountered the way the NUM used to run its fiefdoms in local government (Doncaster, Wansbeck) may also feel that the closure of that particular "school" is no bad thing at all.
posted by Inamicus at 6:07 AM on Jul 17 2006