I want a meritocracy, not survival of the fittest

From a speech given by the Prime Minister Tony Blair at the opening of Highlands School in Enfield, north London

Share

The historical mistake of Labour governments - to try to transform without first getting the fundamentals right - has been avoided. The first phase of New Labour was essentially one of reassurance - we weren't going to repeat the economic mistakes of the past. Trade unions would be treated fairly but without favours. There would be no old-style tax-and-spend. Business would be welcomed as a partner.

The historical mistake of Labour governments - to try to transform without first getting the fundamentals right - has been avoided. The first phase of New Labour was essentially one of reassurance - we weren't going to repeat the economic mistakes of the past. Trade unions would be treated fairly but without favours. There would be no old-style tax-and-spend. Business would be welcomed as a partner.

We are not going to fight an election again with the financial markets in a state of fright, with business alarmed, and with people worried about whether the nation would be adequately defended under a Labour government.

But having defined ourselves as a party of competence and modernity, it is time for a second phase of New Labour, defined less by reference to the old Labour Party, than by an agenda for the country, radical but firmly in the centre ground, the ground we have made our own in the past few years, as our opponents have drifted sharply rightwards.

The Thatcherite settlement of the Eighties has elements we have kept. But now we can see more than ever before how clear are its limitations. Thatcherism allowed better rewards for those that did rise to the top. But in fact, social mobility between the classes has barely increased, or even, in some parts, declined. There was no land of opportunity for all.

As a nation, we are wasting too much of the talent of too many of the people. The mission of any second term must be this: to break down the barriers that hold people back, to create real upward mobility, a society that is open and genuinely based on merit and the equal worth of all.

The task of a Labour government is never just to be practical but to pursue ideals. By 2010, I want to achieve a university participation rate of over 50 per cent among the under-30s. At present, whereas nearly three-quarters of the children of professional parents go to university, barely one in six of children of parents in manual occupations do so. Next year, real-term funding per student will rise for the first time in nearly 15 years.

We now aim to do more. By the next academic year, 50 per cent of students' parents will not pay tuition fees. There will be bursaries of £2,000 offered to 25,000 students from poorer backgrounds, and an extra 5 per cent funding for students from less privileged neighbourhoods. We have now agreed with 27 universities a programme whereby, in exchange for government funding, from this April they will make a special effort to recruit from state schools.

There will be no quotas; no lowering of entry standards. It is a strictly meritocratic programme. But its purpose is to say to pupils even in the toughest inner-city schools: your background shouldn't hold you back; if you have the ability, you can get the university place. We will also encourage students to stay on at school or college, with Education Maintenance Allowances paid to students in areas covering 30 per cent of the country.

There will be no dogma of the past, no ideological barriers, no hangovers from either the post-war Labour settlement or the Thatcherism of the Eighties and Nineties, that will stop us from getting the right answers that meet our ideals and help to improve the lives of the vast majority of the British people.

Opening up economy and society to merit and talent is the true radical second-term agenda. It cannot be achieved by the Government standing back and allowing a Darwinian survival of the fittest, and pretending that it is meritocracy. It requires an active government ensuring a fair playing field, and investing in our people and in our public services to release the potential of all. The foundations are laid. The land of opportunity is not yet built. But I am more certain now than in May 1997 that it can and it will be.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

 

General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk