Britain's working classes need to be encouraged to raise their aspirations and be made to think they can “get all the way to the top”, David Cameron has said.
The Prime Minister said he agreed with Sir John Major's strongly-worded intervention that the dominance of the privately-educated upper classes at the top levels of British society needed to change.
Mr Cameron, speaking as he travelled to India to boost trade links with Britain, admitted that progress in improving social mobility was not fast enough, but went further by suggesting the less-privileged needed to do their part in raising their own aspirations.
The Prime Minister told journalists on his flight from London: “I do believe it's not good enough just to make changes and sit back. You've got to get out there and try and attract talented people into - whether it's top levels of industry... media or politics. Don't just open the door and say 'ok we are in favour of equality of opportunity' - that's not enough. You've got to get out there and find them, win them over, get them to raise aspirations and get them to think they can get all the way to the top.”
The suggestion by the Old Etonian Premier that the working classes need to set their sights higher risks fuelling the row over social mobility in British public life.
Sir John, who has become increasingly vocal in his interventions, said last week he found it “truly shocking” that the upper classes had kept a grip on the Establishment.
Asked whether he agreed with Sir John's remarks, Mr Cameron said: “I agree with John Major that we need a far more socially mobile country, and that is something we need to do far more about.”
Mr Cameron said the Coalition was taking action to improve social mobility, including the pupil premium, extending free childcare for less well off families and free schools.
He defended criticism of his own inner circle being dominated by Old Etonians, saying “I employ people on the basis of are they the right person to do the job.... There's always more that could be done.”
Mr Cameron also appealed for “calm language” on immigration following David Blunkett's warning that rising numbers of Roma entering Britain could cause race riots.
The PM, who is undertaking a four-day visit of Asia and the Gulf, including attending Sri Lanka's controversial hosting of the Commonwealth heads of government summit this weekend, earlier came under pressure by the Indian media over the perception that its migrants are not welcome in Britain.
In an interview with The Times of India, Mr Cameron was accused of “freezing out Indians when Canada, Australia and the US are welcoming them”. Mr Cameron replied: “I think our challenge is getting that message through and countering the myth that somehow we've closed our borders to Indians. That's simply not the case.”