So here’s today’s Guardian, in a piece with the depressingly predictable news that some 31 of the 1,008 new entrants to this year’s Who’s Who attended Eton:
The coalition government is dominated by former public school pupils. Within days of the appointment of the cabinet in May 2010, it was revealed that 16 senior ministers attended public schools. The findings also show the resurgence of the UK’s elite universities and members’ clubs, revealing a glacially slow pace of change.
Why do I find this all so predictable? What does it mean for the Left?
There’s a culture change in the air about the way powerful people are behaving – the current unconcern of individual ‘top’ ConDems when they are caught out by the media, the brushing aside of pleas that basic services need to be maintained, the rudeness of the ruling class to others.
Think the arrogance of Andrew Robathan, the questions over Chris Huhne, and the crass indifference to real need, on any number of issues, of George Osborne… not to mention that casual sexist put down by David Cameron or the recent grimly misplaced nonchalance of Ken Clarke.
And that’s even before we get to Dominic Lawson shamelessly promoting (in The Independent no less – so perhaps ‘exploiting’?) the literal interpretation of ‘an eye for an eye’; or other such gruesome throwbacks to barbarism.
Beware, beware. There’s change in the air.
Let not the progressive Left forget that recession can bring with it a turn to the Right, to a conservatism which the Tories now fervently seek, and which those spineless souls, the LibDems, seem unable to escape.
So how does Labour respond to this threat? How are the former Labour heartlands to be regained?
The attraction of one approach, Blue Labour – a return to the supposed traditional concerns of the ‘working classes’, is that it plays to the gallery of allegedly alienated Labour voters.
But without great care Blue Labour may also play the tune of the Right, of the law’n’order brigade and of the subjugation of women and everyone else who isn’t a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) male.
‘Errors’ of New Labour there may have been, and most of them were shared also by other Western states. These were however surely balanced by the huge benefits which the Labour Government delivered for so-called ordinary people, but which were sadly never trumpeted.
There was no massive celebration of NHS improvements, of Sure Start, of the determination to address climate change, of revitalising our cities…. so most people failed to make the connection between the leverage of power to deliver decent lives, and the Labour hand on that lever.
And still now we harp on publicly about all that Labour did ‘wrong’, ignoring the equally, indeed, even more important things that it did ‘right’.
Yes, responsible (neo-Keynesian) fiscal positioning remains critical for future economic viability.
Intelligent, open learning from mistakes is essential, but we need to see this presented in the context of the benefits which Labour brought to the (wo)man in the street, during its ten-plus years in power.
Enough of the sackcloth and ashes. Labour must offer the hypothecated audience for Blue Labour not static right-wing understandings as an answer for the future, but real, positive stories from recent history. That’s what should have happened whilst Labour was in power, and it’s what must happen now.
Labour must not, in now again reaching out to the ‘traditonal Labour voter’, rely on ‘traditional values’. That’s to play directly into the agenda of the Right.
Remember always that Eton has not one girl amongst its students, nor any child experiencing the daily grind of poverty. Tories always do traditional values better than can the Left.
Progressives need a different agenda.
Because, whatever they say, Conservatives can’t offer hope of a fairer society for everyone.
Had it not have been for the catastrophic destruction of our Grammar school system, then modern political parties would not be dominated by privately-educated members. It is not just true of the right; one in three of the existing shadow cabinet were privately educated. That ratio if I’m not mistaken (and this is from memory) was significantly higher under Blair.
For over forty consecutive years we had state-educated prime ministers in this country. I fear that John Major will be the the last of the elected state-educated prime ministers for some time.
Thanks for the comments.
As a product many years ago – early 60s – of the Grammar school system, I’d have to disagree about the Grammar school system. Remember, it served only about 10% of children in some places (and even fewer girls than boys). There were many fine people rejected, and hurt, by this crass system; how much better if classes had all been in the same school, so students could move between them as they needed to.
And remember too that there is vastly more wealth now than there was in the Grammar school age; I first saw a fitted domestic carpet when aged about 20! This greater wealth is why more people are buying private education and thereby privilege (if not a better education – debateable) for their children.
I wonder too what you think about overall gender distribution in politics? This has improved a lot on the Left, but it’s said by the Fawcett Society that it will take on current rates about 400 years for it to be achieved by the Tories.
There can’t be fairness, or perhaps even good decisions, when those who make the important political choices are all identikit clones of each other.
The “sack cloth and ashes” – mea culpa , “we have to regain trust” is definitely not necessary, Pink.
I’ve always trusted Labour.Where do they get this lack of trust idea? Perhaps they mean people’s “confidence”?
Labour need to get pride back, to broadcast -not gloss over their achievements- which after 18 years of tory neglect and regression, were incredible.
Oh Ruth, thank you. How I do agree with you!
Learning from mistakes, yes of course; but ignoring all the positives, absolutely not.
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