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: Direct Mail Machine Operative

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an i...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: a duchess by any other name is just wrong

Guy Keleny
A teenage girl uses her smartphone in bed.  

Remove smartphones from the hands of under-18s and maybe they will grow up to be less dumb

Janet Street-Porter
Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US