Thursday, May 17, 2007

The social mobility myth

We have a new Holy Grail - as presented by David Willetts and David Cameron - social mobility. This has been used to justify withdrawing support from the Grammar School movement. ( Man in a Shed is not an automatic Grammar school supporter - but thinks they are the best proven system for given fair life chances to children - the other systems are unproven. MiaS didn't get in himself at 11+ - he was out of the catchment area and competition was very tough - and his parents could afford to send him to a private school since when he achieved good results. He only stared to shine academically at 13 - so I really do see the case for other systems, but I know that Grammar schools are effective even if I didn't benefit.)

The papers tell us that social mobility has declined under the current government, and of course as a Conservative this seems like a good fact to throw back in their faces. But we should perhaps explore some of the unspoken assumptions behind these statements.

A while ago, maybe 100 years ago, class mattered a lot. It determined what you would do when you grew up, (or in the upper classes case if you needed to do anything at all !). You were born in, maybe you married out, but few would change.

Hence you had the factory worker or miner who has far more talent that the factory/mine owner forever forced to stay in his position. This is why I assume people in the trade Union movement encourage education and tried to break down these barriers.

What you inherited from your parents was class and entitlement.

Now days, despite the inefficiencies of the education system, most bright children achieve what they are capable of. They meet, fall in love with and reproduce with people of similar background. If Darwin knew what he was talking about then their children are going to be of similar capability, given some statistical variation. They should achieve similar positions in society based on their own individual merit. Social mobility will have slowed and even died. But fairness and equal life chances will still have been the norm.

What you now inherit from your parents is intelligence and capability.

The problem is that there is an underlying assumption that we are talking about the old Victorian issue of social mobility with its class based in built in inefficiencies, rather than the modern talent based society we perhaps live in today. (Okay things aren't perfect - but what I want to show is that social mobility and social justice are not always guaranteed to be the same things. Indeed with an efficient and fair education system for all they will diverge.)

With David Willetts joining the Guardian, Independent, BBC and "partner" of Alastair Campbell in the great hatred of the middle classes it is clear he has lost his grip on logic and reason. They do these things for reasons of deep seated hatred of the middle class, why is he going along with them ?

Parents who love their children and do their best for them are stigmatised as pushy and with sharp elbows. When in reality they are the back bone of our country. They have no case to answer and Mr Willetts should not be accusing them of taking advantage of the schools they have paid for through their taxes - with some money left over for other peoples children too no doubt.

This is going to poison the Conservative party unless some deep grovelling apologies and retractions follow very fast...

( As it happens the actual policy may have elements of reason about it - but the justification for it is abhorrent and the way it has been released is just crass. David Willetts should consider his position carefully. )

Note: This has already caused people to leave the party - Man in a Shed had to think very carefully about his position yesterday. Its not Clause 4 - its crass stupidity.

PS One of the things that has kept me in the fold has been Tim Montgomerie and Conservative home being able to give voice to the members so effectively, and fast. I doubt you can change party policy through membership but I think Conservative home provides some of the counter. Lets see if we are listened to.

Update: Iain Dale has info on Nadine Dorries' theory that Willetts has been allowed to go out and hang himself. Well that may be - but they are words he has spoken. I don't think you can argue that he should have been protected from himself. ( By the way I think Mr Whippy may be round for a quiet word with Nadine over this one. I hope she stands her ground. )


SamuelCoates said...

Tim and I appreciate your p.s. comment. Thanks for the encouragement!

Man in a shed said...

Sam - its a great service you guys provide. Party members, of whatever party, tend to be taken for granted these days.

It sometimes seems that only floating voters, whom can deliver the gift of government to our leaders, are worthy of being courted.

You make that much harder to get away with, and in doing so keep democracy alive against the suffocating forces of spin and political marketing.

So I'm happy to say well done.

Ellee said...

I went to a regional meeting when David Willetts was seeking feedback from party constituency members about the Tories education policy, I don't remember being told that this was what he was planning. I can't make any sense of it. And I agree with you about ConsHome. Nice of Sam to post a comment.