The so called blogosphere is humming with issues of class and social mobility. I hit upon it through a great blog that I read regularly called A Dragons Best Friend in which the author was reflecting on the need for the Government to not over react to another blog, but this time written by a Civil Servant. The Government blog (it was written on a Government website) was the work of Peter Brant who is the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s head of policy. It had caused a fuss in a national paper because it was suggesting that for people to get on, they needed to come to terms with the world of the middle class. The source for his blog was one written by a Michelle Brook on her experience of arriving at an Oxbridge University from a working class background, and explaining the size of the culture gap in the context of high dining. Michelles blog was entitled What the Hell am I doing here and I confess in reading it I would have felt exactly the same, had my education risked propelling me towards the same sort of Higher Education.
It is of course really easy to talk about social mobility, and to articulate arguments for it without considering what it will look like. There are almost inevitably many people who are currently part of the world of Independent Schools, Oxbridge Colleges and the right clubs who have no desire for their world to change. Some of those will get their way, making the case that just because we need social mobility, doesn’t mean we need to dumb down societal norms. There will be others whose defence will be a bit more honest. Social Mobility is fine until people like Michelle try to change our behaviour. The truth is that there are many who do not want to be denied access to the best jobs and to set national policy, but who are not prepared to become clubbers to get there. When I say clubbers I don’t mean the people who visit West Street in Brighton on a Friday night, but the sort of club that sets Government Policy, places such as the Carlton Club. Perhaps more importantly for this nation and its many structures to prosper, we can no longer rely on the instincts and wisdom of people whose life experiences have primarily come from this rather limited pool of talent.
We live in a society where all sorts of internal cultures are crumbling as a result of ossification. The Church has certainly found this and in many places Churches are finding that their value to society is no longer just providing places for quiet contemplation (as important as these are) but also the role of the church in providing Street Pastor schemes, Food Banks and Debt Crisis Centres has provided a new way of serving communities that 40 years ago might have been expected to pop into the local place of worship on a Sunday if things were proving a challenge. In the review of Policing by Tom Winsor, a challenge to the internal culture of Policing was laid down. Whilst I disagreed with some of his ideas, there can be no argument that some are very valuable and build on previous change such as the introduction of PCSOs and other innovations. Policing in this decade is nothing like the Policing of the 1980’s and 1990’s.
However at the top of these organisations, the stranglehold of Oxbridge and those clubs with all their odours of privilege continue to cling tight to power. Many Bishops, Chief Constables and Government Ministers are from this sort of background. Indeed as Michael Gove explained yesterday so too are many within Entertainment and the Arts. There is inevitably a challenge for men and women who are prepared to do as Michelle Brook did and work their way into this elite system. However we also need to ensure that those on the inside who have the capacity to understand how society is changing, are encouraged to work to dismantle some of these structures from within. Social Mobility is not just about allowing a few more people to climb greasy poles, it is also about reducing the height of the poles so that in time we really do create a meritocracy within our society.