Miliband’s circle

In: Uncategorized

23 Jan 2013

This article was part of my cover story from this week’s Fund Strategy magazine.

The similarities between the biographies of Ed Miliband and those around him are astonishing. Indeed it is possible to build a picture of an identikit Miliband circle member to which most of them conform.

Most have a degree in politics, philosophy and economics (PPE) from Oxford University. These include Miliband himself as well as Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, as well as Rachel Reeves, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury.

Those who do not conform to this pattern do not generally stray far. Maurice Glasman has an Oxford degree in modern history rather than PPE. Jon Cruddas is a relative outlier as a historian with degrees from Warwick University. Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, studied law at Manchester and Nottingham universities.

None of those discussed in this article have a degree from Cambridge let alone many of the other universities in Britain. Nor do any of them appear to have studied arts, engineering, literature or science.

It is also striking that most of them seem to have spent at least a year working or studying abroad; generally in America. This applies to Balls, Miliband, Reeves and Cruddas. Glasman is again a slight outlier as he spent several years at the European University Institute in Florence while Umunna studied at the University of Burgundy for a term.

The next stage is typically a short stint in the world of work – perhaps journalism or law – or further study in academia. Full-time political work is the next step. Glasman breaks the mould here too having worked as a community organiser and long-standing academic.

Only in demographic terms is the Miliband team relatively diverse. Both Miliband and Glasman are of Jewish origin while Cruddas’s family are Irish Catholic. There are also several women in top Labour circles including Reeves and Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, PPE graduate, Kennedy scholar at Harvard and wife of Ed Balls. Umunna’s father was Nigerian.

By most dimensions then the Labour leadership comes from an extremely narrow section of society. Its members typically have little experience outside of the world of professional politics.

Of course this is also true of the other main political parties. It only reinforces a widespread sense that politicians of all hues are insulated from the concerns of ordinary people.