Almost a third (31%) of new candidates set to stand in May’s General Election with a reasonable chance of winning were privately educated, new Sutton Trust research published today reveals, while one in five went either to Oxford or Cambridge University.

The research brief, Parliamentary Privilege, shows that the proportion of privately educated candidates in winnable seats is only slightly less than that of the current parliament, where 33% went to private school.

Around half (49%) of the Conservative candidates were privately educated, as were 19% of Labour candidates, compared with just 7% of the school population.  In the current parliament, 10% of Labour MPs are privately educated, along with 41% of Liberal Democrats and 52% of Conservatives. Where school information is available for UKIP candidates, 36% were privately educated.

More than half (55%) of the candidates attended Russell Group universities, including majorities of both Conservative and Labour candidates, with a fifth (19%) Oxbridge educated. However, the Russell Group figure falls to less than a third of UKIP candidates, with only one having been to Oxford or Cambridge.

The study also looks at the professional backgrounds of the candidates. 40% of the sample had political careers, including half of Labour candidates, with 14% of Labour candidates having previously worked for a trade union. 47 of the 260 candidates had careers as consultants, often in media relations, while 29 have worked as barristers or solicitors and 19 as journalists.

The study included candidates selected by mid-December 2014 who were replacing serving MPs for the same party or in target seats with a reasonable possibility of winning.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation, said today:  “This research shows that the next House of Commons is unlikely to reflect any more social diversity than the current crop of MPs. It underlines the importance of enabling bright young people from low and middle income backgrounds to get to the best schools and universities if they are to have a chance to play a part in making the decisions that affect all of our lives.”


  1. The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 150 research studies and funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions.
  2. For this study, 260 Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) were selected on the basis of a reasonable possibility of victory, assessed through an examination of parties’ published lists of target seats, long term trends in opinion polls and those seats where the sitting MP is standing down or has been de-selected by their party. PPCs contesting safe seats with a sitting MP were therefore not included, nor were sitting MPs who are standing again. We have, however, made some allowance for the volatility of the electorate by including a significant group of candidates from UKIP and other parties in their key target seats. Where the number of candidates considered for the smaller parties were statistically insignificant, they were not included for any detailed analysis.
  3. These criteria mean that the majority of the PPCs are from the Labour party (134 of 260). The second largest block of PPCs (64) is from the Conservatives, followed by UKIP (30), the Liberal Democrats (16), the Green Party (3), Plaid Cymru (2), and Sinn Féin (2). At the time of this analysis, the Scottish National Party had not yet selected any candidates.
  4. Analysis was by Dr Robert de Vries, Sutton Trust Research Fellow until December 2014 and now lecturer in sociology and social policy at the University of Kent drawing on a database compiled by Tim Carr, an independent political consultant.
  5. Information on PPCs’ education and career histories was taken primarily from public sources, such as candidates’ campaign web pages. Where this information was not publicly available, we contacted candidates or their offices directly. 119 candidates were contacted, and 48 responded with the relevant details. Ultimately we were able to recover information on schooling for 191 of the 260 PPCs (73%), on university education for 209 (80%), and on career history for 260 (100%).


Private School 31% 19% 49% 36% 7%
No Degree 10% 5% 10% 35% 62%
Oxbridge 19% 18% 28% 3% 1%
Russell Group (including Oxbridge) 55% 56% 68% 29% 11%


SOURCE: Elitist Britain, Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission 2014 

Private School 33% 10% 52% 41%
Oxbridge 24% 17% 32% 28%
Russell Group (including Oxbridge) 54% 61% 48% 57%
No degree 17%

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