Shane Greer wrote a piece yesterday entitled "Life isn't fair - deal with it" in which he explains how from a humble background, he fought against the odds through determination and grit to get to his current position as a barrister and more recently to be involved with politics and publishing.
Wednesday, 29 July 2009
I have great admiration for anybody who is able to overcome disadvantageous circumstances and to triump over adversity in this way. However, the jist of the rest of Shane's article is that people should not rely on the state for answers and should instead rely on themselves. He says that you cannot "legislate fairness".
Shane's story is very encouraging but unfortunately he is in a very small minority. You will always find shining exceptions but the majority of people from humble backgrounds never manage to escape them. In some cases it may be because they lack the will but the odds are so stacked against success that it is hardly surprising if this is the case. It is a shocking indictment of this government that social mobility has gone into reverse. If Labour stands for anything it is for equality of opportunity.
Some of the commenters to Shane's post make a good point about how Labour's hostility to Grammar schools has contributed to this decline in mobility. They did used to be a way for children from poorer backgrounds to advance their situation. However they were not perfect and often favoured "pushy middle-class parents". They also drew a line under children's ability at the age of 11 which in my opinion is far too young. I do think though that with the loss of most Grammar schools, a powerful tool for social mobility has also been lost.
The thing is though, if we follow Shane's argument to its logical conclusion then we would effectively be saying that the entrenchment of privilege by accident of birth should be accepted with the odd exception like Shane himself managing to break through. As a good supporter of free markets, surely he should accept that by not ensuring that the natural talent of our population is given a fair crack at achieving its potential we are selling ourselves short as a nation?
There are no easy answers here but I feel that an attitude that everyone can make it if they only try hard enough ignores the reality of our very unequal society and to just assent to this without thinking we should at least try and improve this situation is for me accepting the unacceptable.