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Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Prince Harry to Work at Tesco?

One reason, among many, why the UK has little social mobility is that no one really believes in it.

Many years ago, a very good leftist sociologist, Paul Willis, wrote a book Learning to Labour: Why Working Class Kids get Working Class Jobs which argued that people - or at least working class boys - get the jobs they want. In the days when we had panel beaters, working class boys wanted to be panel beaters and there was a lot of competition for apprenticeships. Apprenticeships, of course, were the working class equivalent of internships and just as poorly remunerated. Fortunately for the working class boys, middle and upper class boys did not apply to be panel beaters.

Working class boys weren't interested in internships and probably still aren't, leaving the field clear for sharp-elbowed middle class parents sponsoring their children.

Prince Harry left Eton with a B in Art and a D in Geography. We were told he received a lot of help and he has had help ever since, minded and managed to keep him out of trouble and keep him in some kind of "suitable" job. No one, but no one, expects him to work on a Tesco check out.

Nor does anyone expect Prince Andrew to manage a local Thomas Cook. It's not really an issue that he has a job created for him, worth £500 000 a year in expenses. After all, among the despotic families which rule half the world, he goes down better as a roving Trade Ambassador than would some shining example of upward social mobility who might be female, black, gay - or just above themselves. So we are stuck with Air Miles Andy.

Just as there are people at the top who don't intend to move down, so there are lots of people who don't really want to join the upper echelons of our Ruritania.

As an undergraduate at Oxford, back in 1967, I won two University prizes awarded on the basis of open competition with exam scripts anonymously marked: the Gibbs Prize in Politics and the George Webb Medley Prize in Economics. Shortly afterwards, I got an invitation to one of those half-secret Oxford fraternities of which the Bullingdon Club is the most famous.But I was invited to an "intellectual" rather than a drinking club; I forget its name. At the end of the evening, a silver drinking cup was passed around, "Church and Queen" people murmured. As the cup passed to my lips, I remained silent. I was never invited back.

I am sure it is a deterrent to anyone interested in public life - politics, civil service - that the culture is so heavily insistent on God and the Queen. During the Leaders' debates at the last Election, an audience member was allowed to ask a challenging question about the Pope's forthcoming State Visit. Nick Clegg, as a professed atheist, had a chance to denounce the charade as an offensive waste of money, got up by Tony Blair (who does God) and Gordon Brown (who does God) for the most miserable of motives. No chance. Clegg knows when you have to go along with our ruling class. After all, he is one of them not one of us. So he did God or, at least, Antichrist.

We only ever had one ruthless accelerator of social mobility, upwards and downwards. That was the 11+ which pulled bright working class children out of their social backgrounds and pushed them to achieve something. The 11+ is not coming back. Instead, we now have schools which select on the basis of the religious professions of parents. That is how the Daily Mail has triumphed over upward mobility.

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