Friday 22 January 2010

Social mobility fact-check for Isaby

Next Left's new social mobility fact-checking service has already helped out Nick Clegg and Guido Fawkes in our first week.

Today, we have ConservativeHome co-editor Jonathan Isaby looking through rose-tinted spectacles in his article about Tory candidates in The Times.

Many are living Margaret Thatcher’s dream of social mobility, having grown up on council estates and seen their parents buy their houses.

Well, social mobility may have been her "dream" but Thatcher's policies of redistribution upwards contributed to the opposite of what she aspired to. As we noted in quoting the LSE research last time:

We cannot find any evidence that the sharp drop in mobility observed for children growing up in the 1970s and 1980s has continued. But nor can we find evidence that mobility has improved.

I realise that does not fit the ConservativeHome "narrative" - but I challenge Isaby and his colleagues to contest that as a matter of fact.

Isaby also gives a rather positive top-spin in reporting what I understand to be a fairly even numerical split between state and privately educated Tory candidates this time around. Another way of reporting the same data would be to observe that a Tory Commons majority would see a significant rise in the number of MPs who are privately educated. Three-fifths (59%) of the current Tory MPs in the Commons are privately educated, along with almost one-in-five (18%) of Labour MPs.

However, as we have noted before, ConservativeHome has done some very good work consistently highlighting the costs of seeking selection, and the class impact that has on narrowing the field of candidates, which is an issue in all parties.


Another top Tory blogger getting the facts about candidates wrong yesterday: Iain Dale posting that "Tories have more BME candidates from Labour", by including Tory MPs who are standing again while excluding a dozen of their Labour counterparts, as Left Foot Forward noted.

When challenged, Dale did politely apologise to Operation Black Vote, having not realised that they take a meticulously cross-party approach to promoting diversity across all parties. But he didn't correct his central facts or erroneous headline. A more accurate headline might, I suggested, be something like:

Tories not far behind and nearly neck-and-neck with Labour on overall BME candidates under Cameron, having been ahead of Labour on candidates under Michael Howard in 2005.

The number of non-white Tory MPs will certainly increase, from the two in 2005. That is more important: the diversity of Parliament should not be vulnerable to political fluctuations. But Dale's prediction of 13 non-white Tory MPs next time strikes me as very optimistic: to get to above ten would be very striking progress in itself. That prediction sits oddly with his projecting a Tory overall majority of 13. I suspect the Tories would need to be heading well into landslide territory of a 100+ majority to elect 13 non-white MPs from those currently selected.

However, Dale stresses that regional and local factors will affect results in many seats; it would be interesting to know which gains make up his BME class of 2010.

PS: I can see where those who worry about pigeon-holing or tokenism are coming from, and share that concernto some extent. However, the overall pattern of selections is relevant evidence. Without the factual evidence, public discussion about whether candidates from different backgrounds have 'fair chances' and no unfair barriers becomes largely anecdotal, and often mythologised.

Moreover, it is only through completing progress towards a meritocratic system of fair chances that black and Asian MPs finally get the option to escape the particular burdens of 'representation' where grassroots voices, the media and their own parties thrust upon those who make the intial breakthrough. Once there are 25+ non-white MPs in the House a plurality of different choices and approaches are increasingly possible: that was much less open to the first four black MPs in 1987.

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