The new House of Commons comprises 306 Conservatives (158 re-elected MPs and 148 newcomers), 258 Labour (191 and 67), 57 Liberal Democrats (47 and 10) and 28 others (of whom 21 are re-elected and 7 are newcomers) - without the inclusion of Thirsk and Malton which is holding its election later due to the death of a candidate. With a total of 232 new MPs, one-in-three in the Commons, how have the demographic characteristics of the House - class, gender, race and occupation - changed?


For ‘class' here we take educational background as indicative of wealth and status, and question whether a Conservative block of MPs, half of whom are new, has increased the proportion of privately-educated MPs. The short answer is that, notwithstanding some excited observations elsewhere in the political press, it has not. In 2005 the House elected (as shown opposite) 203 MPs that attended private schools: 118 Conservatives, 62 Labour and 23 Liberal Democrats. In the new House with a much expanded Conservative contingent, the equivalent figures are 163 Conservative, 32 Labour and 23 Liberal Democrat, refuting the expectation that a more Conservative-dominated House would increase the number of privately-educated MPs.

For the truth is that in Conservative selection contests applicants from private schools are being out-run by state-educated candidates. Of 306 current Conservative MPs, the proportion drawn from private schooling has been reduced from 60 per cent in the last Parliament to 53 per cent - effectively establishing virtual parity with the state-educated.

While, clearly, it might matter that the bulk of privately-educated MPs should now be on the government, rather than the opposition benches, the overall number is static and, in the case of the Conservatives, in significant decline as a proportion of all Conservative MPs. What remains evident however, is the contrast with the Labour Party where the proportion of privately-educated MPs has always been below 20 per cent and which has diminished further with the departure of many MPs borne in on the Blairite tide. Liberal Democrat MPs meanwhile are closer to the Conservatives in their educational profile.

It is also mistakenly claimed that the election of a near Conservative majority would mean that "Etonians make a Commons comeback" (The Guardian, 8 May), for as the party has reduced its reliance on the public school educated, so has it particularly ceased to elect MPs fashioned in the famously plutocratic and elitist schools such as Eton. In the new House, with a Conservative Party expanded from 200 to over 300 MPs, there are now 18 Etonians in place of 15 in the last House, a figure comprising just 6 per cent of all Conservative MPs, the lowest percentage ever. When the Conservatives last won an election in 1992, the figures were 35 (10 per cent) and when there was last an Etonian prime minister in 1963-64, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, there were 73 (20 per cent). Today's Etonians are deliverable to Westminster in four black cabs, including amongst them Kwasi Kwarteng, the Ghanaian who won a scholarship to the prestigious school.

Further evidence refuting claims of social elitism is provided by analysis of the Commons' Oxbridge component.

While the educational profiles of the parties clearly differ - with Labour's the least socially exclusive and the Liberal Democrats standing between the two larger parties in their reliance on private schools and Oxbridge - the Conservatives' alleged elitism is clearly in steep decline.


The May 2010 election has also seen convergence between the major parties in the election of female MPs, where for two decades running had been made by Labour's use of all-women shortlists to ensure the selection of women candidates in safe or winnable seats.

Anticipating the loss of many of its women MPs at the 2010 election, when through retirement or defeat 37 Labour women were duly removed, the party successfully employed all-women shortlists in enough safe seats in the run-up to the election to ensure it retained its lead among women MPs over the Conservatives, who had systematically endeavoured to shortlist aspiring women candidates in Conservative-held seats. Women now comprise 32 of Labour's new intake of 67 MPs and 35 of the 148-strong Conservative new intake. Despite Labour's concerted effort to keep ahead of the Conservatives, the Tories have clearly managed to present a more representative profile and to contest Labour's monopoly of the feminising of the composition of the Commons.


As with gender so with race, where Labour monopolised the provision of black and minority ethnic (BME) MPs, beginning in 1987 with the election of four MPs. By 2005, there were 13 BME MPs. The Conservatives, meanwhile, had elected no BME MP post-war since 1992, until electing two in 2005. Thus a total of 15 BME MPs in 2005. The new House has doubled that total to 27, and significantly almost achieved parity with 11 Conservatives to Labour's 16. The Conservative achievement in rivalling Labour is not to be dismissed - the party encouraged the selection of five new BME MPs in safe Conservative seats, to add to the two implanted in safe seats in 2005. Thus seven of the party's eleven BME MPs are virtually immune from defeat, notwithstanding that Conservative safe seats synonymous with leafy white suburbia or rolling acres, were traditionally seen as unsuitable berths for BME candidates. Labour has exploited its strength in the ethnicallydiverse inner city seats to keep ahead by providing the first three female Muslim MPs in its total of 16 BME MPs, half of whom were elected as part of the new intake of 2010, and compensating for the defeat of four others in the election.


If the House has moved towards greater representativeness in gender and race, with the major parties' profiles converging, the same cannot be said of its occupational composition, where the Conservative and Labour parties present dramatic contrasts, and where the distinction between private and public sector interests, already noted in respect of education, is powerfully reflected in the occupational profiles of the parties. But first, a caveat: the classifying of MPs by occupation is more an art than a science. Many MPs have had varied careers, and to classify an academic who has moved into the media, or a solicitor who works as a trade union official, is not simple. That said, a three-fold categorisation is applied here, differentiating between professional, business and miscellaneous occupations. (‘Professions' comprise inter alia, the law, accountancy, medicine, engineering, civil service and education; ‘business' includes banking, other commercial activity and farming; and ‘miscellaneous' covers politics, journalism, social work, the voluntary sector and - all but extinct among MPs - manual workers.)

The Conservatives' occupational profile in the new House (as shown above), is overwhelmingly dominated by its business component, with two in five MPs drawn either from banking (53; 17 per cent) or other business employment (70; 23 per cent), and to a lesser extent by lawyers in the professional category (56; 18 per cent). It was ever thus, although the business category has overtaken the professional, which used to account evenly for about 80 per cent of all Conservative MPs. This is all entirely different from Labour's profile where business accounts for a mere 5 per cent (13) of its MPs - an astonishingly small figure for a party whose leaders have governed a market economy for 13 years, and where the professional category comprises predominantly public sector professionals such as teachers and lecturers, who account for 38 (15 per cent) of Labour MPs, rather than lawyers who provide 25 (10 per cent) of Labour's strength. The distinction between private (Conservative) and public (Labour) sector interest is stark and made more so when considering the miscellaneous category, which in Labour's case includes 30 (11 per cent) trade union officials, most of whom are in the public sector.

The miscellaneous category, hugely inflated in Labour's case, also comprises 59 MPs classed as ‘politicians', 25 of whom were elected as part of the 65-strong 2010 intake. These are the swelling ranks of party staffers, MPs' researchers and ministerial aides, who after three terms of Labour government have developed political ambitions having known no other employment in their working lives. Each election during the years of Labour's incumbency saw a steady accretion of such people, but the Conservative ranks also reflect this trend, with 37 (12 per cent) of Conservative MPs in 2010 comprised of such professional politicians, a figure expected to be augmented were the party to occupy office for a prolonged period. In Labour's case this onward march of both trade union and party apparatchiks serves to fill the gap left by the manual workers, who now comprise a mere 22 (9 per cent) of Labour MPs, of whom only seven are former coal miners, testifying by their diminished presence to the deindustrialisation which has long eroded the party's historic social base.

Numbers are very small, but the Liberal Democrats occupational profile is more like Labour's in its reliance on teachers (9 out of 23 MPs), but more like the Conservatives in its links to business, supplying 14 (25 per cent) of its 57 MPs. But as with the two other parties, the party staffers are much in evidence, providing 11 (20 per cent) of their 57 MPs. In total, 107 of the MPs elected to the 2010 Commons - one in six - were drawn from the ranks of professional politicians, and few of the new intake had not come up through the conventional paths of party activism and municipal involvement. Most of the newcomers had fought seats before, and while some in the group of Conservatives inserted into safe seats had not - such as the ex-soldier Bob Stewart in Beckenham or the barely political GP Sarah Wollaston in Totnes - these were exceptions, for essentially the ‘class of 2010' emerged from the traditional pool of eligibles.

Byron Criddle is co-editor of The Almanac of British Politics

Tags: Class, Education, Gender, General Election 2010, House of Commons, Issue 24, Race