Could bursaries really help get working class MPs?

Written by Josh Zitser tweets @mrjoshz on 25 February 2014 in Diary
Josh Zitser on why the new planned scheme by Renewal to give "working class" potential MPs £25,000 bursaries could be a bad strategy for the party

"Under a recently announced scheme, low-income Conservative parliamentary candidates could be offered bursaries of up to £25,000 to help them win their seats. This extra funding accounts for about 63% of the costs needed to run a successful campaign. The aim of the scheme, therefore, seems to be to help those who are struggling financially to rise, regardless of their socioeconomic position, to the upper echelons of the party.

David Skelton, founder of Renewal – the masterminds of this project, has stated that the “Conservative Party has failed over recent decades to show why it is the natural home for the working class”.  He seems to argue that the party needs to address their perception of being an elitist ‘chumocracy’ who are, as was recently remarked by Alex Salmond, at home in the “playing fields of Eton”.

Whilst this call for a more diversified and accessible party would be welcomed by most Tories, Skelton is distinctive in that he has failed to adopt the class-oblivious position of the Conservatives in recent years. His historical ignorance, which is quite possibly deliberate, is oblivious to their unwritten rule of distancing themselves from the blatant discussion of class. Thatcher famously remarked that “class is a Communist concept. It groups people as bundle and sets them against one another."

This unwillingness to describe British society in class terms has been retained by Thatcher’s successors. Cameron probably also sees the use of class vocabulary as a subversive, rhetorical device  used by a Neo-Marxist army of Owen Jones-esque class warriors to crush capitalism. His frequent use of the more socially mobile, individualistic “hard-working” and ‘aspirational’, as opposed to “working-class”, serve to highlight his commitment to individual achievement. Even Blair chose to avoid ‘Marxistant’ societal analysis, so as to liberate the individual from the confines of class consciousness and rigid, collectivist boundaries.

It is worth saying that Renewal’s scheme is likely to be beneficial in achieving equality of opportunity when it comes to running to be an MP. His discussion of “the working class”, however, attempts to undermine years of consolidation of a class unconscious approach to understanding society. By refusing to engage in the semantic skulduggery of Cameron, Blair et al, Skelton’s solution, whilst clearly identifying the party’s infirmity and offering a credible treatment, seems to ignore all past remedies prescribed.

Skelton has ultimately provided an out-of-date prescription for a very modern malady.

Josh Zitser tweets @mrjoshz

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