MPs in terms of gender, ethnicity and state/private education – some figures and reflections

This week, at Prime Minister’s Question Time, Labour leader Ed Miliband tore into David Cameron for the representation of women in his party, pointing to the all-male frontbench in front of him, in contrast to his own. Miliband did not care to mention the ethnic make-up of that front bench, perhaps because of fear of alienating xenophobic Middle England from which he needs to gain votes, or perhaps because his own wholly white front bench on display that day would score no better. At present, the cabinet consists of 22 members, of whom 18 are male and 4 female. Not one member belongs to an ethnic minority. The shadow cabinet contains 25 members, of whom 14 are male and 11 female, with 2 members from ethnic minorities. What is not visible, but no less important, is the representation of different educational backgrounds amongst both cabinets. Of the cabinet, 12 were educated in the state sector, 10 privately; of the shadow cabinet, 19 were state-educated, 5 privately; for one member it is unclear. The difference in the break-up of either cabinet in terms of educational background is as stark as that for gender and ethnicity. With this in mind, I decided to assemble some wider statistics concerning the MPs in the three major parliamentary parties, not least to draw attention to the least commented-upon form of discrimination and favouritism, to do with the vast over-privileging, above all in the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Parties, of those who were privately educated. This is a subject frequently evaded by many leading politicians in any of the parties; the New Statesman have recently referred to ‘education’s Berlin Wall’, a term even taken up by Education Secretary Michael Gove, though as an NS leader pointed out, the privately educated Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt declined to comment on the subject.

UK Population by Gender and Region

According to the 2011 census, as provided by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the population of the UK was 63,182,000 million people, made up of 31,028,000 million men and 32,154,000 million women. In percentage terms this means 49.1% men, 50.9% women. Between the four regions, this breaks down as follows:

England: 53,012,456 – 26,069,148 (49.2%) men; 26,943,308 (50.8%) women.
Scotland: 5,295,000 – 2,567,000 (48.5%) men; 2,728,000 (51.5%) women.
Wales: 3,063,456 – 1,504,228 (49.1%) men; 1,559,228 (50.9%) women.
Northern Ireland: 1,810,863 – 887,323 (49%) men; 923,540 (51%) women.

Total Population of mainland (England, Scotland and Wales): 61,370,912 – 30,140,376 (49.1%) men; 31,230,536 (50.9%) women.

Total Population of UK: 63,182,000 – 31,028,000 (49.1%) men; 32,154,000 (50.9%) women.

Percentages of UK population represented by region:
England: 83.9%
Scotland: 8.4%
Wales: 4.8%
(Mainland: 97.1%)
Northern Ireland: 2.9%.

The gender discrepancy can mostly be explained by different life expectancies, certainly amongst the existing population who are now aged over 50, as the differences in numbers become more pronounced and regular in the upper age bracket. As can be seen, the overall discrepancy is relatively consistent amongst the regions, except for Scotland, where it is around 3% (compared to 1.6-2% elsewhere, smallest in England).

UK Population by Ethnicity and Region

The ethnic break-up of the United Kingdom as a whole can be compiled from individual results for each region. In England and Wales, according to the 2011 report by the ONS, 86.0% of the population are classified as White (divided into ‘White British’ and ‘Any Other White’, with populations of 80.5% and 4.4% respectively). After this, the next largest groups are Indian (2.5%), Pakistani (2.0%) and Black African (1.8%). Overall, Asian and Asian British groups account for 7.5%, whilst Black African, Caribbean, Black British and others account for 3.3%. 14% of the English and Welsh population can be considered as belonging to non-white ethnic minorities. Wales itself is the least ethnically diverse region (closely followed by South West England), with 95.6% white population, 4.4% ethnic minorities. Using the population figures above (England 53,012,456; Wales 3,063,456; England and Wales 56,075,912), this amounts to numbers of approximately 2,928,663 white, 134,793 ethnic minorities in Wales. In England and Wales combined the figures will be 48,225,284 white; 7,850,628 ethnic minorities. Thus in England alone the figures are 45,296,621 (85.4%) white; 7,715,835 (14.6%) ethnic minorities.

The 2011 census results for Scotland show that 96% of the population are classified as White. Of the remaining 4% (Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Other Asian, African, Caribbean, Black British, Arab, and Other), the largest ethnic minority is Pakistani (1%). Asians make up around 3% of the population, and Black African, Caribbean and other around 1%. Thus from a total population of 5,295,000, approximately 5,038,200 are white, 275,000 ethnic minorities.

The representation of ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland is much smaller than in the rest of the UK, with 98.2% of Northern Ireland residents classified as White. From the remaining 1.8% split (in descending order of prominence between Chinese, Irish Traveller, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Other Asian, Black Caribbean, Black African, Black other, Mixed and Other). The largest ethnic minority in Northern Ireland, Chinese, accounts for just 0.35% of the population. Thus from a total population of 1,810,863, approximately 1,778,267 are white, 32,596 ethnic minorities.

If these figures are weighted relative to the population of each region, the following figures are obtained:

England: White 85.4%; Ethnic Minorities 14.6%.
Wales: White 95.6%; Ethnic Minorities 4.4%.
Scotland: White 96%; Ethnic Minorities 4%.
Northern Ireland: White 98.2%; Ethnic Minorities 1.8%.

From this, figures can be calculated for the mainland (population 61,370,912) and the UK as a whole (population 63,182,000). The population of the mainland, from the figures above, is approximately 53,263,484 white; 8,125,628 ethnic minorities. For the UK as a whole, the figures are approximately 55,041,751 white; 8,158,224 ethnic minorities. In percentage terms, this amounts to:

Mainland (England, Scotland and Wales): White 86.8%; Ethnic Minorities 13.2%.
UK: White 87.1%; Ethnic Minorities 12.9%.

UK Population by Education

Historical statistics for state or private education in England and Wales can be found in a 2012 report by Paul Bolton. They show a proportion of pupils educated at independent and direct grant schools falling from 8.1% to 5.7% between 1963 and 1978, then rising again, peaking around 1990 at around 7.4%, then falling slightly to around 6.5% in the years approaching 2000, then rising slightly again over the next decade, with a small fall from around 2010. The following figures are provided for percentages of pupils at independent schools at five yearly intervals from 1950 (from 1963 they apply to England alone):

1950: 4.6%
1955: 4.7%
1960: 5.3%
1965: 7.5%
1970: 6.5%
1975: 5.9%
1980: 5.9%
1985: 6.5%
1990: 7.4%
1995: 6.8%
2000: 6.7%
2005: 7.0%
2010: 7.1%
2011: 7.1%
2012: 7.0%

For those aged roughly between 25 and 70 in 2010, who thus were educated from age 7-18 between 1947 and 2003, I will take an average percentage from the figures from 1950 and 2005, which works out at around 6.2% of those in such an age range who were privately educated. For Wales the figure in 2011 was 1.9% and for Scotland in 2013 , 4.5%. Applying a weighting to these figures in line with that for the average over this period compared to the present number in England (thus 6.2/7) gives the following figures

For those aged between 25 and 70 in 2010:
England: 6.2% privately educated
Wales: 1.7% privately educated
Scotland: 4.0% privately educated

These three sets of figures can then be weighted according to the population of each mainland region (England 83.9%, Scotland: 8.4%, Wales: 4.8%), thus calculating (6.2*83.9/100) + (1.7*4.8/100) + (4*8.4/100) = 5.6% of the mainland UK population born aged between 25 and 70 in 2010 who were privately educated, and thus also 94.4% who were state educated.

Figures for MPs

The House of Commons website with data on elected MPs (see here and other pages linked to at this site), and the study of MPs compiled by the Smith Institute following the 2010 UK general election serve as the basis for most of my calculations. A few seats have changed hand following by-elections, but as these types of changes have generally been atypical of changes at general elections, I will use the figures from immediately after the election for my calculations. The following are the figures for those elected by party, with the brackets after the numbers giving the number of re-elected MPs, followed by the number of those newly elected.

Conservatives: 306 (166 + 140)
Labour: 258 (190 + 68)
Liberal Democrats: 57 (46 + 11)
Others: 28 (20 + 8) [Independent MPs: 1; Green: 1; Scottish National Party: 6; Plaid Cymru: 3; Democratic Unionist: 8; Sinn Fein: 5; Social Democratic & Labour Party: 3; Alliance: 1]
Speaker: 1
Total number of MPs: 650
Total number of MPs in three main parties (Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats): 621

I will concentrate solely on the three major parties, as the numbers of MPs represented by any of the others are generally too small to be able to discern meaningful trends. There are three measures of the representativeness of the MPs in each of these three parties which I will apply – in terms of gender, ethnicity (belonging or not belonging to an ethnic minority), and state/private education. The results are revealing.

MPs: Representation of Gender

Number of male/female MPs by party after 2010 UK General Election:

Conservatives: Male 257 (84.0%); Female 49 (16.0%).
Labour: Male 177 (68.7%); Female 81 (31.3%).
Liberal Democrats: Male 50 (87.7%); Female 7 (12.3%).
All three main parties: Male 484 (76.7%); Female 137 (23.3%).

These can be expressed relative to the numbers in the mainland UK as a whole (49.1% men, 50.9% women) by taking the taking the ratio of the representation in each party to that in the nation, converted into a percentage. So, for example, the ratio of male Liberal Democrat MPs (87.7%) compared to the percentage of the male mainland UK population (49.1%), expressed as a percentage, is 87.7/49.1*100 = 178.6% over-representation.

The figures for representation are thus as follows:

Conservatives: Male MPs 171.1% over-representation: Female MPs 31.4% under-representation.
Labour: Male MPs 139.9% over-representation: Female MPs 61.5% under-representation
Liberal Democrats: Male MPs 178.6% over-representation: Female MPs 24.2% under-representation:
All three main parties: Male MPs 156.2% over-representation: Female MPs 45.8% under-representation.

MPs: Representation of Ethnicity

Number of white/ethnic minority MPs by party after 2010 UK General Election:

Conservatives: White 295 (96.4%); Ethnic Minority 11 (3.6%)
Labour: White 242 (93.8%); Ethnic Minority 16 (6.2%).
Liberal Democrats: White 57 (100%); Ethnic Minority 0 (0%).
All three main parties: White 594 (94.1%); Ethnic Minority 27 (4.3%).

(It is worth noting here that the Liberal Democrats have only once ever had an ethnic minority MP, Parmjit Singh Gill, who only held the seat of Leicester South for less than one year after winning a by-election in July 2004, to be defeated in May 2005 – see )

Using the same principle of measurement as for gender, representation can be calculated as follows, on the basis of percentages of 86.8% white, 13.2% ethnic minority for mainland UK:

Conservatives: Whites 111.1% over-representation; Ethnic Minorities 27.3% under-representation.
Labour: Whites 108.1% over-representation; Ethnic Minorities 47.0% under-representation.
Liberal Democrats: Whites 115.2% over-representation; Ethnic Minorities completely unrepresented.
All three main parties: Whites 108.4% over-representation; Ethnic Minorities 32.6% under-representation.

MPs: Representation of Educational Background

These calculations are a little more complicated than the previous two, because of the need to produce averages of those in the wider population who were educated in the state or private sector over a period of time (because of the varying ages of MPs). The Smith Institute gives the following figures for state and private (fee-paying) education of MPs elected or re-elected in 2010:

Labour: State 88%; Private 12%
Conservatives: State 46%; Private 54%
Liberal Democrats: State 59%; Private 41%
All MPs: State 66%; Private 34%

This can then be expressed as ratios relative to the figures for the population aged between 25 and 70 as given above. On the date of the 2010 General Election (May 6th), there were 15 MPs elected who were aged 70 or over – 13 Labour (Gerald Kaufman, Dennis Skinner, Stuart Bell, Joe Benton, David Winnick, Austin Mitchell, Paul Philip Flynn, Glenda Jackson, Ann Clwyd, David Allen Keen, Geoffrey Robinson, Michael Meacher and Frank Dobson) and 2 Conservatives (Peter Tapsell and Alan Haselhurst). The two Conservative MPs were both privately educated; of the 11 Labour MPs whose schools are known, 9 were educated in the state system, 2 at independent schools; the Labour figures roughly tally with the averages for the party, whilst the Conservative sample is too small to be significant. The youngest MP elected in 2010 was Pamela Nash, who was aged 25 at the time, so there were no MPs aged under 25.

The representation of state and privately educated persons in parliament can thus be easily calculated in the same manner as above, by taking a ratio of the percentage represented in parliament to the percentage in the nation as a whole, always using figures for those aged between 25 and 70 in 2010 (state educated 94.4%; privately educated 5.6%). Figures here are used just for the mainland, as no Northern Ireland MPs are not part of the sample.

The figures for each party then are:

Labour: State educated 93.2% under-representation; Privately educated 214.3% over-representation
Conservatives: State educated 48.7% under-representation: Privately educated 964.3% over-representation
Liberal Democrats: State educated 62.5% under-representation: Privately educated 732.1% over-representation.
All three main parties: State educated 70% under-representation: Privately educated 607.1% over-representation


In the three main parliamentary parties, by far the most over-represented group is the privately educated – 607.1% of their representation in the population as a whole. This is followed by male MPs, 156.2% of their representation in the population as a whole, and white MPs, 108.4%. If one looks however at under-representation, then ethnic minorities fair worst in terms of numbers of MPs, at just 32.6% of their representation in the population as a whole. This is followed by female MPs, at 45.8%, and then the state educated, at 70%. In all of these three measures, whether considering over- or under-representation, the Labour Party come out best, with the smallest under-representation of female, ethnic minority and state-educated MPs; the Liberal Democrats are worst in terms of under-representation of female and especially ethnic minority MPs; whilst the Conservative Party are worst in terms of massively disproportionate numbers of the privately educated, over-represented to a huge 964.3%, the worst of any type of over-representation.

Of the 49 Conservative women MPs, I was able to establish the education of 42: of these, one was home-schooled and another had a military education; of the remainder 17 were privately-educated, 23 state-educated, so the privately-educated are less disproportionately represented amongst female than male Conservatives (though still very much over-represented with a figure of around 42.5% privately educated (I will calculate similar figures for female Labour MPs at a later date, when time permits). Only 2 out of 49 (4.1%) female Conservative MPs belong to ethnic minorities (though this is still larger than the representation of ethnic minorities in the whole parliamentary party), however; for Labour the figure is 7 out of 81 (8.6%) (again larger).

There are wider questions to address and more detailed breakdowns of figures to consider (for example, the relationship between representation of ethnic minority MPs and constituencies with larger minority populations, not least in London and other major urban centres). But it is clear that more work is needed on all three fronts of Parliament is to be reasonably representative of the nation as a whole. Labour have gone the furthest to increasing the number of female and ethnic minority MPs, but both categories remain underrepresented; there have been some real moves by the Conservatives to do the same in recent times, which should not be ignored, but there is still a long way to go; as for the Liberal Democrats, their record on both is abysmal. But I have yet to hear of an initiative to redress the balance of state versus privately educated MPs (least of a problem for Labour, though even they should not be complacent); until the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats address this, Gove’s appropriation of the ‘Berlin Wall’ term is hollow and the both parties’ claims to representativeness are wafer-thin. It should be pointed out that it would be possible to have cabinets and shadow cabinets which contained roughly equal numbers of men and women, with members from ethnic minorities commensurate with their representation in the UK population; but if large percentages of these people remain privately educated, then they are still drawn predominantly from a mere 5.6% of the population, and claims to equality are meaningless.

I am not a professional statistician, and do not rule out the possibility that in the above there may have been some miscalculations, or that some of my methodologies might be open to question. I welcome any corrections in these respects; if I feel these to be appropriate, I will happily modify figures and if necessary conclusions as well.

Blairite Lord Adonis attacks MPs who send their children to private schools – and Mehdi Hasan calls for the banning of private education altogether

The issue of the apartheid-like education system we have in the UK has come to the fore in the last two years. One factor influencing this was the election of a new government so blatantly dominated by men from the top public schools, together with efforts on the part of Nick Clegg to downplay his own very privileged background (and the public schoolboy handshakes which led to the formation of the coalition in the first place) by talking a lot about social mobility. This rhetoric has however not been backed up with any concrete policies, nor the blocking of Tory policies which have precisely the reverse effect. Nonetheless it has had the effect of making many aspects of our class-ridden society part of public debate again, in a way which they were not either during the Major years, with the empty promise of a ‘classless society’ on his part, nor during the Blairite New Labour era. One exception was the intervention on the part of Gordon Brown in 2000 concerning the non-admission of Laura Spence to Oxford, for which he was roundly attacked both by some of the public school tendency in the Labour Party, and especially by the overwhelmingly privately educated British media. So it is a real surprise, and most refreshing, to see former Blairite guru and now advisor to Ed Miliband, Lord (formerly Andrew) Adonis, attacking MPs who educate their children privately but still want to have their say in state education . The left-wing columnist Mehdi Hasan goes a stage further, drawing upon the idea of US billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffet in calling for the complete abolition of private education . This is a radical but correct idea, which could bring about a fundamental transformation of the nature of British society. When the ruling and middle classes actually have a stake in state education, the political pressure for better schools, resources, and so on will be far greater; as it stands in large measure their fate is determined by an elite who have no personal interest in the matter.

Private education (speaking as one who was himself privately educated) is an archaism and a shocking reminder of a fundamentally divided society. The privately educated, only around 7% of the population, are disproportionately represented at Oxbridge and the Russell Group Universities. It may be some time before a radical proposal like that of Hasan is seriously contemplated, but in the interim, I would propose something more modest: that universities in the UK have quotas of students they can admit, no greater percentage of the privately educated than exist in the nation as a whole – thus no more than 7% privately educated. With some will and imagination, a similar policy could perhaps be implemented in the workplace as well?