Tuesday, 5 April 2011
Clegg criticises unearned privilege. Millionaire cabinet looks on.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg says he wants to stop people getting on in life purely because of "who they know".
A worthy aim but one that is, along with rhetoric about "fairness" and "progress", devoid of meaningful content. We all want people to be able to pursue their talents, regardless of who they know or their family background - but what concrete measures are being proposed to achieve this? None of course. When it comes to policies which may put the brakes on unearned privilege even members of the Labour Party are loath to challenge the vested interests of the rich and powerful.
No mention either by Clegg of banning unpaid internships, which would in-reality not be a ban at all, but a lifting of a ban on those from poorer backgrounds following their dreams too (if of course you ignore for a minute the existence of private schools and educational-selection by house price, to name but a few).
All talk of "social mobility" and "getting more kids from poorer backgrounds into university", while admirable in the latter instance, misses the point entirely, in that society still needs people to do traditional, working-class jobs. To live in a country which treats those in low-skilled occupations shoddily because they should, in the eyes of some, "work harder" so as to "get on" is to accept a permanent and entrenched class-system, based on the fact that nurses, cleaners, carers and refuse collectors will always be needed. The same of course could not be said of bankers.
I tend to agree with Owen Jones that social mobility is a dead end, and a distraction from narrowing income inequality - which might require genuine political courage. If Clegg wants some indication of how un-meritocratic Britain actually is then he should take a look at his cabinet colleagues. It was Alexis de Tocqueville who once said that "The surface of society is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colors breaking through."