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Monday 28 February 2011

A level playing field?

Today's blog has been echoed by the Leader of the Labour party, which is particularly astute of Ed Miliband as I’d only written the first line before he gave his speech this morning about the growing inequality in British Society over the last 30 years, under successive Tory and Labour governments.

My thoughts were inspired by this article in The Guardian by Gary Younge, where he expertly analyses the current State standoff in Wisconsin as symptomatic of a hidden class war in US society. I urge you to read it for yourself, but they key point he makes is

“Inequality of income and wealth has been more readily accepted in the US because equality of opportunity has long been assumed”

and also

“The idea of a class system where only a handful can ever be truly wealthy intrudes awkwardly on a culture rooted in notions of self-advancement, personal reinvention and rugged individualism, even if it is closer to reality. Old habits die hard. The weekend protests were organised under the banner "Save the American Dream".

Now obviously the sort of ‘deal’ where you accept profound inequality in life as long as everyone gets the chance to succeed, is anathema to me. And as Gary Younge points out, that deal doesn’t work in the US anyway – people are harbouring some terrible illusions. But it did get me thinking about inequality over here. Because I’m equally unhappy about a society where your chances in life are pre determined by the status of your birth, and the opportunities you will be presented with as a result. This has been brilliantly exposed in Andrew Neil’s recent documentary ‘Posh and Posher’ whereby basically, if you’re part of the establishment, you’re going to do OK – and if you’re not – it’s going to take 2 or 3 generations to get upwardly mobile.

Which is why – a little to my own surprise – I’m beginning to favour positive discrimination.

I like the fact that Simon Hughes is thinking about positively discriminating against Universities who don’t give more chances to state educated children.

I like the fact that a while ago one of the London medical schools was considering making entry easier for children from lower achieving schools on the basis that an ‘A’ at some schools must be considerably harder to achieve than an ‘A’ at Eton – and thus may be worth considerably more.

I’ll be looking out for further examples of this – I’d welcome feedback if anyone has any good ones.

I want to live in a society where we don’t accept huge inequalities either as a price worth paying, nor as a predetermined fact of life. But one where we ensure we level the playing field, so we can all succeed together.

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