John Redwood: We are becoming a more unequal society

In many ways, we have made it more difficult for today's child from the council estate

Share
Related Topics

Today's child from the council estate does not face that same challenge. In some ways we made it easier for them, with much more encouragement for those who do not come from public schools and well-heeled families. But in other ways, we have made it more difficult - we have taken away access to some of the best schools by abolishing direct grants and destroying many grammars. Some believe the answer is to give all prizes. But there is no pride in winning if winning is too easy.

There is less upward mobility now than 20 years ago. The challenge for today is to recreate in our modern setting ways for children from all backgrounds to aspire to be the best in their chosen area. If it's money they want, they should be able to compete for their place in the Chelsea football team or be encouraged to set up their own company. If it's lifestyle they want, plumbers and electricians often do better than people with degrees. If they wish to pursue careers in the media, medicine, the law and public affairs, they need places at high-quality schools which will stretch them whoever their parents. I would like all to win prizes - but only if they have achieved something worthy of such recognition.

Today most people in the country would either regard themselves as middle class or as classless. The huge armies of factory workers who owned nothing and depended on the mill owner for their livelihood have largely disbanded. The Labour Party apes Conservative language, recognising its old class rhetoric demanding the automatic support of the "workers" caters for a declining minority.

The Conservative Party, as it embarks on its search for the elusive extra votes to take it to government again, should recognise this shift. For with it has gone a shift in aspirations. We should be the party that offers more hope of joining the comfortable classlessness that characterises the best of modern life. If there is a class divide left, it is between what social commentators now call the underclass and the rest of us.

Most people in the UK now own property. Shareholding is much more widespread than 30 years ago. We need to encourage more people to become owners, to have a stake in society around them. We need to find pathways to prosperity for those who currently own nothing.

In the years after the war there was still an aristocracy with its own mores which attracted admiration and anger in equal quantities. Today, instead of aristocracy, people look up to or peep in at celebrity. Celebrity itself has become ever more democratic.

The new Britain does offer us the chance to create something better. The pursuit of celebrity is but candy floss on the body politic. Underneath that today, there is a more equal community. Oxbridge graduates may become plumbers because the hours and pay suit them better than taking a conventional graduate job. The footballer is now by far the best-paid man in the street and can stay rich if he plays his cards right.

Conservatives should be angry that Labour has damaged social mobility. The abolition of grammar schools, the taxation of pension saving, the continuous increase in regulation of the self-employed and small enterprise, the sniping at the best universities, all serve the interests of those who have already secured their place in Labour's pantheon of cronies and placemen.

Conservatives must offer to remove obstacles in the way of individuals building their own business, saving for their future, striving for the best. We should want all to go to an independent school, rather than trying to punish the independent schools we have. We should have a tax system which is kinder to those who make an effort, and reinforces those who save for their futures. We need to remodel the regulatory framework to cut the number of ways entrepreneurs can end up in court.

The Conservative Party is the party of aspiration or it is nothing. The state should do less, but what it does do should reinforce the new classlessness in Britain with the right kind of help to strivers from poorer backgrounds. It should not build them up by knocking down the children of the comfortable. It should let them build themselves up by setting the right challenges and the right expectations.

The author is the Conservative spokesman on deregulation

React Now

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

Experienced Creche Assistant - Lambeth - September 2014

£64 - £69 per day + Competitive London rates of pay : Randstad Education Group...

All Primary NQT's

£100 - £120 per day + per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Description Calling a...

DT Teacher - Food Technology

£100 - £145 per day + Pension and travel: Randstad Education Maidstone: SUPPLY...

Supply Teachers Needed in Thetford

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers neede...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Why black cats make amazing pets, and take good selfies too

Felicity Morse
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star