The affluent bourgeoisie use either fee-paying schools or private tutors to entrench their advantages, while kicking away the ladder of opportunity for bright kids from working-class backgrounds.
The lesson from the story of Georgia Gould is that if you restrict the opportunities of the many, the few will simply lengthen their lead.
Come on comrades, stop beating up on Georgia Gould – you created her
Since no one else is likely to do so, it falls to this column to spring to the defence of Georgia Gould. Telegraph readers may not be familiar with Georgia. One day she will probably pupate into some hectoring Labour health or environment spokesperson, telling us all when to turn the lights off or how many units of alcohol we may consume. But at the moment she is still trying to win the Labour nomination for the London seat of Erith and Thamesmead, and the Labour Party is having one of its amusing fits of hysterics about the matter. Georgia may be brilliant; she may be blonde; she may be captivating. But she is only 22, and the Labour rank and file are furiously protesting.
Georgia‘s enemies say that she is only the front-runner because she is the daughter of the famous Blair spin-doctor, Lord Gould, and his kick-ass publisher wife Gail Rebuck. It’s nepotism! say the old-fashioned members of the People’s Party. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, they say. It’s elitist and corrupt and against everything we stand for. A former Labour MP called Alice Mahon has torn up her party card, and there seems to have been some botched attempt to fiddle with the ballot. So before things get out of hand, I want to say something direct – and stern – to those angry Lefties.
Look at the composition of the modern parliamentary Labour Party, as smoothychops lawyers and well-heeled journalists replace the old trade union boys. Look at the case of Georgia Gould, and you can see that Labour party politics is now just like any other middle-class profession, and the middle-class professions are increasingly dominated by the children of the middle classes. Last week we had the first taste of former minister Alan Milburn’s long-awaited study into declining social mobility – and it found, to no one’s surprise, that it is becoming more and more difficult for children from poorer backgrounds to penetrate the bourgeois professions. Or, to put it another way round, it is becoming ever more likely that these professions will be full of the kids of richer parents. The apples are falling closer and closer to the tree.
On average, lawyers born in 1958 grew up in families who were 43 per cent richer than the national average. But lawyers born in 1970 grew up in families with incomes 64 per cent above the national average. In journalism, a profession that used to be genuinely open to untutored working-class genius (think of Frank Johnson), there is an even more frightening agglomeration of middle-class power and advantage. Journalists born in 1958 grew up in families with incomes only 6 per cent above the national average. Journalists born in 1970 grew up in families 42 per cent richer than average. Milburn says it is all caused by nepotism, and networks, and pushy middle-class parents securing internships and work experience for little Toby or Georgia, and there is certainly some truth in that. The offices of professional Britain are infested with nice, clever amenable kids, doing the photocopying and writing first drafts of articles – and nine times out of 10 they are there not by some competitive process, but because one of their parents knows someone in charge. It may be reprehensible, but then you have to ask yourself why all this “work experience” has been made necessary, and why you need it on your CV.
The answer is that A-levels have been so dumbed down that an A grade is no longer much use for an employer as a distinguishing tool, and pushy parents know that “work experience” is a good way of giving their kids the edge. And why have A-levels been dumbed down? Why are there so many As sprayed around that universities are now demanding an A star? The answer is that it has become ever more politically essential to try to bleach out the appalling reality of the difference in performance between the maintained and the independent sector. Maybe it is true, as the Government tells us, that state schools are getting better. But if that is the case, then the fee-paying schools are simply getting better faster. The gap is widening, and it will go on widening until the British ruling class finally wakes up to their hypocrisy. The affluent bourgeoisie use either fee-paying schools or private tutors to entrench their advantages, while kicking away the ladder of opportunity for bright kids from working-class backgrounds.
It is not a question of cash, or any cant about “giving parents more control”. It is about ethos, and ambition, and the self-demand that goes with academic competition. I know a lawyer from Belfast, a man of my age, who believes fervently that he would never have gone to university had it not been for the grammar school system, and who cannot believe that no one – no one from any party – is objecting to their abolition at the hands of, yes, Martin McGuinness. I don’t care what you call schools that allow selection on the basis of academic ability. I don’t care at what age the selection takes place. But until someone is brave enough to restore academic competition and selection to state education, the inequalities will simply grow. The lesson from the story of Georgia Gould is that if you restrict the opportunities of the many, the few will simply lengthen their lead.