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Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Alan Milburn: Social Mobility Tsar

Alan Milburn, the Mr Nasty of New Labour, has accepted the job of Social Mobility Tsar, advising the UKs Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government.

If you don't believe in Social Mobility you probably believe in Tsars of one kind or another. The last real one was Nicholas II of Russia which makes me think that Alan Milburn is supposed to act as Social Mobility's Mr Stupid.

The inhabitants of the United Kingdom, subjects of the Queen etc, are not very keen on social mobility. They simply don't believe that the top jobs should be open to all. The vast majority are in favour of a hereditary monarchy even it means Charles III. They believe that ordinary people should be allowed to get rich, but they aren't particularly keen on the idea that ordinary people like themselves should be in charge of anything important, like the country. They prefer to put their trust in those who come from good homes and good schools: David Cameron and Nick Clegg, for example. Connections to the hereditary aristocracy and that other well-known Tsar, the Christian God, are added feel-good factors.

This is a big part of Mr Stupid's problem. Then there is the other part:

In the first half of the 20th century the biggest driver of social mobility was the Second World War. Churchill's government realised that the war would be lost unless careers were opened to talents. As a result, men and women from modest backgrounds rose through the ranks, military and civilian, on the basis of intelligence and bravery. Some of them ended up in very senior roles indeed. Now they are are nearly all dead.

The main driver of social mobility after 1945 has been abolished. Crude and sometimes cruel as they were, the 11+ and (free) grammar schools plucked people like me out of their class of origin and propelled them upwards towards training and careers their parents did not even know existed.

My parents left school without qualifications. My father rose from being a delivery boy pedalling a bike to become a self-employed shopkeeper with two lock-up shops. My mother never worked at a higher level than general shop assistant.

I ended up with three academic degrees, including a doctorate, and rose to a senior teaching post (Reader) in a half-way decent university (Sussex). I am not so sure it would have happened had I not been put in a grammar school environment. Our governments seem to have the same feeling since in the past two decades they have repeatedly tried to create schools which are not bog-standard comprhensives.

Unfortunately, they have chosen to do this making great use of God and school uniform. I put it forward as a general Law, that making children do God is a way of trying to keep them in their place. God and social mobility don't go together. Ditto school uniform, though we had it in my boys' grammar school and subverted it at every moment that we could. As a general rule, school uniform is there to promote conformity.

Social mobility is about allowing people to rise through the ranks even though they hold their knife and fork wrong, have a different accent, and don't give a toss about God and the Queen. I don't think this is something our coalition government has in mind.

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