Income and gender among 'major factors' in political ambition - study


University-educated and socially elite men from the South are more likely to consider becoming an MP or councillor, a study has found.

Research by the University of Bath revealed gaps in class, income, gender and education - as well as the north-south divide - are major factors in who runs for political office in Britain.

The findings are based on a survey of more than 10,000 British people into what drives political ambition.

They show that those more likely to consider a political position are young, confident and have parents who were involved in politics when they were growing up.

Dr Peter Allen, who led the research, said: "Our political institutions don't 'look like' the British people because of these biases.

"This study highlights how political parties risk further alienating the public who already think Westminster is run by London elites.

"They should adjust how they recruit to minimise this effect. If they don't then people will switch off long term, and politics will increasingly become the domain of the wealthy and highly-educated.

"It's a matter of self-preservation."

The research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), suggests that policies aimed at making politics more open to under-represented groups are not working as well as hoped.

Until now, studies have focused on the types of people currently holding seats as MPs or councillors.

But the issue of political ambition and the backgrounds of those who aspire to run for office has not been explored in such depth in Britain before, the researchers say.

The study analysed data from a recent YouGov survey of 10,000 people between March and April 2017.

Only one in 10 had thought of standing as a candidate or putting themselves forward, with men more than twice as likely as women to have considered running.

The highest levels of political ambition were seen in the age group 18-24.

People with university degrees were more than three times as likely to have political ambitions than those who failed to finish secondary school.

Those from mixed-race backgrounds had slightly higher levels of ambition than those who were white, while people identifying as South Asian were least likely to stand.

More than twice as many identifying as upper class had considered putting themselves forward, compared to those in the middle or lower class bracket.

People earning in excess of the average UK annual salary of £27,600 were more likely to consider running for office, as well as those living in the South compared to the North.

Those with parents who were politically active during their childhood were more likely to run than those without.

Confident and outgoing people with faith in politicians were more likely to be politically ambitious but these were not necessarily the "kindest or more sympathetic individuals", the team said.

Initiatives such as family-friendly policies in the Welsh and Scottish assemblies do not appear to have closed the gender gap in political ambition, Dr Allen said.

"These efforts are worthy of pursuit but we've found no effect from our data," he added.

"The message is they should not be considered a simple fix. What's needed is wider social change."

The rise of groups such as Momentum could encourage candidates to come forward but it is not yet clear what their impact will be, he said.