The Gentrification of the Left
Through making determined efforts across all levels of the Labour Party's democratic structure to measure, to adapt and to increase the direct representation of women, BAME and LGBT+ members within the party, including across Labour MPs, an 'over-representation' has now been achieved within each of these groups.
This enables the Labour Party to better make up for the lost years where these voices were barely heard in how party and policy were shaped and helps to make the party feel more relevant and more of a political 'home' to a broader base of voters, members, activists and aspiring politicians. About 20% of Labour MPs overall are now BAME, which compares to 14% of the population as a whole. That is 1 in every 5 Labour MPs – ten years ago that ratio was 1 in every 40.
Over half of all Labour and LibDem MPs are now women for the first time in history. About 14% of MPs are openly gay, which compares to 2.2% of the population as a whole.
Attention has now turned to disability representation, where roughly 22% of the UK population have a disability but less than 1% of MPs are disabled, having dropped from 7 in the 2017 intake to just 5 in 2019, some of the main barriers cited being the cost of standing as a candidate (an indication of the extent of cross-over between disability, class and poverty) and the lack of availability of a job-share option (which also affects parents and carers - the lower their income, the greater the barrier).
Research shows that as the Labour Party’s MPs have become increasingly drawn from the middle class, there has been a corresponding drop in working class voters who traditionally voted Labour now turning out to vote for any party at election time.
Labour Party MPs are primarily drawn from professional and managerial backgrounds with only 3% or less being from routine and manual occupational backgrounds (this was 37% in 1951), yet within the UK those working in jobs classed as routine/manual comprise upwards of 30% of the population.
Given the disproportionate loss of life and income caused to the working class as a result of austerity and now this crisis and given the ongoing decline of political visibility and voice of the working class within any party, it seems vitally important that the Labour Party, traditionally thought of as the party of the working class, situates itself within struggling communities to offer hubs of support, to consult, to listen, to gather baseline data, to set targets, to report to members and to not only be receptive to working-class members’ experiences of political exclusion, but to take full account of the wealth of academic evidence that lays bare the economic and cultural barriers that need to be dismantled.