It is now more or less received wisdom that the Brexit vote was largely about giving MPs a kicking, particularly those that supported Remain. Whilst there might be a legitimate complaint about how the Remain campaign was led, it is now becoming part of the post-referendum orthodoxy that Britain voted to leave the EU in part as a rejection of the metropolitan elite and the establishment to which all MPs have been ascribed. In their totality they have been branded out of touch with their constituents and the country at large for not anticipating or supporting Brexit. But of course many did support it, and I don't actually recall any media outlet asking me which side I thought would win. I predicted a Brexit win and it gives me no pleasure that I was right. Our actions we are told have alienated the people who voted for us. But is this new mantra actually true?
Most MPs I know across parties are not part of any elite never mind a metropolitan one. Many like me were born and brought up on Council estates and we recognise that we have only made progress in our own lives because of actions taken by (mostly Labour!) governments to extend opportunities. A number still regard themselves as working class - so having an Oxford academic (surely part of an elite himself) tell them otherwise is ironic to say the least, but it is inaccurate and patronising as well.
Nor is it the case that politicians of all shapes and guises are out of touch. Many MPs grew up and live in their constituencies. They and their families are part of their local communities. At the Labour Local Government conference last weekend I heard councillor after councillor say they represented the area they were brought up in and that they are still very much part of their neighbourhood.
And many councillors and MPs are hard-working and go to enormous lengths to engage their constituents. I hold regular coffee mornings, surgeries, street surgeries, public meetings and listening events and many other MPs do too. So we need a systematic and detailed examination of why so many people feel alienated and believe our society does not work for them. Part of this has to be the way people's views are ignored by the planning system despite them often making sensible objections and proposing better alternatives. They want better public services but in many areas public services and facilities are getting worse. Jobs and opportunities are unevenly distributed but there is little in the way of social policy to rectify regional or structural inequality.
The reason the Newsnight piece about the by-elections on Wednesday made me so angry was not only because the academic commentator was clearly biased and ill-informed but he was allowed to flaunt his opinions with no challenge to his erroneous assertions. Similarly there was no attempt from the academic or anyone else on the panel to look at the deeper causes of political disengagement - a precarious and insecure labour market, the constant denigration of our politicians, and the lack of hope for regeneration in many areas - surely all of these must play some part in alienation? Instead what we got as an explanation was a lazy blaming of all politicians!
But clearly Parliament needs to look more like the people it seeks to serve and we do have a need for greater diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and class and I recognise that there are other changes we might need to make too. So I now hope the BBC will respond to our request to meet MPs and will put together a well-researched programme to examine the failure as well as the potential of our current political system. This could help restore faith in our democracy. I expect nothing less of the BBC or indeed Oxford University!
Roberta Blackman-Woods MP is the Labour MP for Durham and shadow housing and planning ministerSuggest a correction