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Pleased to meet you: the Labour intake of 2015

July 10th, 2015

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Antifrank looks at the Labour intake of 2015

The election in May was a huge disappointment for Labour, going backwards rather than forwards.  Despite losing seats, however, over one fifth of the Labour MPs elected in May were not in the House of Commons in the last Parliament.  That is a big chunk of the Parliamentary party and the new MPs will have a big influence over the party’s future direction.  Who are these new MPs, what do they believe and who should we watch out for?

I’ve had a trawl and compiled the following table:

This is harder to compile than you might expect.  Some of the new intake have not advertised everything about their past (for example, Harry Harpham is happy to advertise that he was a striking miner in the 1980s but it took more investigation to find out that he has more recently worked as an assistant to David Blunkett).  Some have defeated me: all I have found out about Ruth Cadbury’s past career so far is that she was a local councillor.  Some have so far betrayed none of their detailed political thoughts, either being publicly on-message at all times or simply not saying much at all.  No doubt we will learn more in the coming months and years.

As you can see, the new intake includes some intriguing MPs.  One, Keir Starmer, was lobbied to stand for the Labour leadership even before he’d taken his seat.  One, Nick Thomas-Symonds, is a well-reviewed biographer.  Two are close relatives of foreign Prime Ministers past and present.  But what themes can we identify?

First, there are a lot of new MPs with past experience of national politics, either as special advisers or as parliamentary assistants to MPs.  Even leaving aside the three MPs who are returning to the Commons, at least 12 of the new MPs have held a role of that type (I suspect the number is higher because quite a few of these MPs are strangely reticent about such pasts and my digging may not have uncovered them all). The public and third sector is well-represented: 11 are former union officers, five worked in health or social care and ten have worked in charities or NGOs.  As usual, the lawyers are thick on the ground: eight in total.  (Of course, some MPs have held more than one job so they may feature in more than one of these totals.)

By way of contrast, few have much private sector experience.  Even taking a broad view of what constitutes “private sector”, only four of the new MPs have substantial experience in this area.  This looks like a serious gap in experience on the Labour backbenches and is likely to prove an indicator of the priorities of the new intake.

What of their views?  One great advantage of a leadership election is that it forces the new MPs to nail their colours to the mast at an early stage, even if they are naturally taciturn or avoid internal party debate.  And the first thing to note is that only three out of 53 new MPs chose to back Liz Kendall.  There aren’t many Blairites in the new crop.  Reinforcing the point, 11 chose to nominate Jeremy Corbyn, and while at least four of them apparently did so out of a wish to give party members a choice rather than ideological sympathy, more have made enough public statements to put their firm left credentials beyond dispute.

Since the election, new MPs have had three opportunities to show off their leftwing credentials.  Immediately after the election, ten new MPs called for a leader to set out an alternative to austerity:

At the end of May, many more Labour MPs wrote to defend the union link with Labour:

This was as much about internal Labour party politics as a wider defence:

“Shamefully, there are many in our own party who see the aims of the unions as alien to their own and hurl around the lexicon of our enemies willy-nilly. The phrases trade union ‘barons’, union ‘bullying’ or ‘sabotage’ should have no place in the vocabulary of Labour politicians. Perhaps some of those from the nouveaux wing of the Party should read their history and understand that the unions created the Labour Party and not the other way around.”

At the end of last month, an open letter was sent to the Observer calling for debt cancellation for Greece and an end to the enforcing of austerity policies.  It included 25 MPs among the signatories:

Any signatory of any of these letters (especially the first and the last of these three) can be taken to be on the left of the Labour party.  16 of the new intake signed one or more of these letters.  Seven signed all three.

Fewer of the new intake have come out decisively on the Blairite side.  Wes Streeting has commented that “Never again can the Labour party go into a general election with negative ratings on leadership and economic credibility.”  Rob Marris has said that Labour overspent when in government.  Peter Kyle has agreed with Tristram Hunt that Labour needs a fundamental rethink before putting a fresh offer to voters.  Jo Cox has said: ” We must go out of our way to regain trust on the economy; talking about how much we love the NHS isn’t enough”.  But otherwise MPs have either taken a mainstream line or kept their powder dry.  If the new leader is going to move the party to a new economic position, he or she will be leading the new intake rather than catching up with them.

Which of these MPs are worth looking out for?  It’s early days yet, of course.  Keir Starmer looks likely to be a considerable asset for Labour straight away.  Angela Rayner is a rare example of an MP who started at the bottom as a care worker and worked her way up: she looks capable.  Tulip Siddiq seems to have panache, managing to discomfit Boris Johnson on the campaign trail.  Helen Hayes has an unusual background for an MP as an architect and town planner and she seems to be very much her own woman.  Peter Kyle’s views will be much in demand as the man who was able to take a Conservative seat in the south of England.  Naz Shah’s life experiences will command respect.

Not all of the new MPs inspire immediate excitement: we have been given a heavy sprinkling of council functionaries who so far seem to have more skill at working party machines than to offer inspirational leadership.  But they may yet surprise.  Some look likely to provide entertainment value. Marie Rimmer is awaiting trial next month for assault following an incident in the Scottish independence referendum.

Taken as a whole, this looks like a talented intake and many of them are already finding their voices.  There is an undeniable leftward lean to the intake and a relatively narrow set of backgrounds.  With very few exceptions these new MPs lack experience in the private sector and interest in the getting rather than the spending aspects of politics.  The challenge they face is the same one that the Labour party as a whole faces – addressing the concerns of a much wider cross-section of society than the party as a whole managed in May.

Antifrank