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

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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Forget charging by the page - with books, heart matters more than heft

Katy Guest
George Osborne likes to think of himself as the greatest political mind of his generation  

Budget 2015: It takes a lot of hard work to be as lucky as George Osborne

John Rentoul
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test