Are MPs representative of the public?
One aspect of representation is the idea of MP’s representing the interest of their constituents, another is whether they should be a cross section of the general public in order to really be able to understand the problems of all groups in the population. This issue has been given particular prominence recently by the perception of many of the public that Westminster consists of a narrow political elite. So how do MPs compare with the general public?
Gender. 22% of MPs are women compared with 51% of the general public. The number of women MPs changed little from 1945 to 1983 at about 20. It rose to 41 in 1987 and 67 in 1992. The Labour Party then adopted a policy of all-women shortlists for selecting candidates in many of its seats and, with the large swing to Labour in 1997, the new Parliament saw 101 women MPs. David Cameron, in opposition, wanted to attract new types of people as Conservative candidates with a centrally controlled A list that constituencies could choose from and the number of women Conservatives MPs tripled in the 2010 Parliament.
Age. MPs are older than the general population as the average age of MPs is 50 and that of the general population is 38, but the position is more complicated. Certainly only 2% of MPs are 18-30 compared with 19% of the electorate but also 19% are over 60 whereas 28% of the electorate are in this age group. So both younger and older people are underrepresented. MPs typically enter Parliament in their 30s and 40s and look to retire in their late 60s, providing they have not been defeated in an election before then.
Ethnic Group. The number of black MPs rose from 14 to 27 in 2010 but this is still only 4% of MPs compared with 14% of the population. There are of course a range of ethnic minority groups so it is also important how far each group is represented.
Occupation. There has been concern that there are very few working class MPs. Class is a very complicated concept to measure and so most classifications use occupation. 4% of MPs come from manual worker backgrounds whereas amongst adults 21% are skilled manual workers (C2 classification in the Census) and 15% are unskilled manual workers (D classification)so that these groups are heavily underrepresented in Parliament. MPs are mainly from the higher professional groups (AB classification).
Education. 90% of MPs are university graduates compared with 22% of the adult population and 31% of the working age population. 35% went to a fee paying school compared with 7% of the population.
Political Class. There has been concern that more politicians become political advisers and organisers and then MPs through their party connections without having worked in other occupations and so do not have the same range of experience. 16% of current MPs have followed this route into Parliament.