Justine Greening: The Tories can offer working-class people a 'British dream' with no bar to social mobility

'People talk about the American Dream, but what we’re talking about is how do you create the British Dream?'

Jane Merrick
Political Editor
Saturday 03 October 2015 23:23 BST
October 2, 2015. Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening in her office in Whitehall.
October 2, 2015. Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening in her office in Whitehall. (Peter Macdiarmid)

The Conservative Party can offer people from working-class backgrounds the “British Dream” where there is no bar to social mobility, International Development Secretary Justine Greening will say.

In a sign that David Cameron will make an audacious bid for Labour voters when he addresses his party conference in Manchester this week, Ms Greening sets out her vision for “levelled-up Britain”, a version of the American Dream where anyone can achieve what they want through hard work and where “rough diamonds” are given opportunities.

In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, the minister says her own background as the comprehensive-educated daughter of a Rotherham steelworker had given her the inspiration to fight for social mobility from inside government.

Ms Greening also declines to rule out standing for the Conservative leadership when Mr Cameron steps down before the next election, agreeing with her Cabinet colleague Nicky Morgan that there should be another female leader in the future and adding: “What’s always driven me relentlessly is delivering for my country.”

The Prime Minister and Chancellor George Osborne are expected to make a pitch for “blue collar” Conservatives at their first party conference in charge of a Tory majority government.

However, a major row is developing inside the party over cuts to tax credits, to be introduced next April, which will see more than three million people losing an average of £1,350 a year. London Mayor Boris Johnson, who is planning to challenge Mr Osborne as Mr Cameron’s successor, is leading an internal revolt by backing concerns raised by the Labour MP Frank Field over the tax credit cuts.

Ms Greening insists that the tax credit cuts will be offset by the introduction of a national living wage, adding: “What we’re doing is fundamentally realigning the British economy. We want to move away from high tax, high welfare, but low income, low wages, to the opposite of that.”

Setting out her vision of “levelled-up Britain”, she says: “When I was growing up in Rotherham I knew there were kids getting a better start than me, but it would never have helped me to have their opportunities taken away. That wouldn’t have suddenly improved my life; it would have made theirs worse, and it certainly wouldn’t have done Britain any good at all. So for me this levelling up is about us saying we need to have opportunity and potential for children who currently don’t have it.

“It goes beyond education to some of the work we’re doing on apprenticeships, and about businesses saying what can they do to find those rough diamonds that are coming through and fast-track them through the system, even if perhaps they don’t have that kind of network that some other people might have.

“It’s about us as a country deciding that social mobility, and people being able to get to the top wherever they start and whoever they are, is one of the defining features of Britain for the 21st century.

“It should be something that we’re recognised for. People talk about the American Dream, but what we’re talking about is how do you create the British Dream?”

Speaking from her office at the Department for International Development, Ms Greening says she would have “got nowhere” without education. “I passionately believe that everybody has something that they do really well. If they can find that then people can be amazingly self-motivated.”

Asked whether she agreed with Ms Morgan about the need for a female leader, Ms Greening says: “We’ve only had one female leader of a major political party and I’m proud that it was the Conservative Party. I hope we can have another female leader in the future but the Prime Minister’s been very clear he’s serving a full five-year term. We will cross those bridges when we get to them.”

Asked whether she would consider standing when there is a vacancy, she adds: “I did not come into politics for me, for my career. I had a great career before I came into politics. What’s always driven me relentlessly is delivering for my country and my community… I care about social mobility, opportunity, effort and reward, people being able to make something of themselves wherever they start.”

Holding the door open to voting to leave the EU in the referendum, she says: “Broadly what I would hope is that we have a successful renegotiation that means we can vote to stay in Europe. But I think I’m probably like most people in Britain: I will have to wait and see what the deal is on offer and I think I will probably take a judgement then with everyone else.

“I’ll work out what’s in our country’s interests, not just in the short term but in the long term, and I’ll vote the way that I think is right for our country.”

Tackling tax avoidance

New global tax rules are to be unveiled by the OECD on 5 October, but pressure groups argue that reforms fall short of what is needed to tackle tax avoidance.

The International Monetary Fund has calculated that developing countries lose about $200bn (£132bn) in tax avoidance, but ActionAid says poorer governments had little to do with making the rules and don’t have the resources to implement them. The reforms are expected to force multinational firms to report income and tax data, country-by-country, to the authorities. David Cameron proposed tax-system reform at a G8 summit two years ago.

Diarmid O’Sullivan of ActionAid said: “The proposals ... cooked up by a club of rich countries, will not end tax avoidance and will not help developing countries find a sustainable route out of poverty.”

Mark Leftly

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