Coffee House

David Cameron is the leader battling inequality

12 October 2012

The great paradox of British politics is that the left moan about inequality, but it’s the right who will remedy it. Ed Miliband is proposing the restoration of the old order, where the poor get the worst schools and the rich get the best (and the opportunities that flow from it). Labour plans to tax the rich more, and give money to the poor as if by way of compensation. The Tories want to revolutionise the system, so the poor have the same choice of schools that today only the rich can afford. Labour wants to make sure the unemployed are well looked-after. The Tories want to make sure the unemployed are rewarded — not penalised — if they seek work.

It may sound perverse. But it is David Cameron, an Old Etonian with a Brasenose first, who is the anti-establishment candidate and whose policies pose the greatest threat to the old, corrupt order. I look at this in my Telegraph column today.   Americans coming to Britain would be amazed at the grip our private schools have over the country. They educate 7 per cent of pupils, but figures from the Sutton Trust show that they provide the following proportions of our elites:

What explains this? Part of it will be what Samir Shah calls ‘cultural cloning’, how people have a bias towards recruiting in their own image. But we must also consider another staggering aspect of the British educational system: the attainment gap between private and public, which is bigger than any country bar Qatar, Brazil and Uruguay.


This should make you angry: after six decades of the welfare state, the British rich have a far better start in life than the poor. But you can hardly blame the private schools for being so good. The only rational anger should be directed at the way state schools are failing their pupils – who will be just as bright as those with deep-pocketed parents.

But this is not the worst of it. The most shocking part of the British social mobility problem – the reason why British elites are posh and getting posher – is that we have a state school system that serves the rich best and poor worst. It is demonstrated by the following graph, I think the FT’s Chris Cook ought to win an award for producing it. I spent years trying to prove the link between poverty and bad exam results in state schools, and failed. Cook seems to have done over in a wet weekend. This is his now-famous ‘graph of doom’ and it perhaps the most scandalous fact in British public life.

Why do the poor kids do worse in exams? Is it, as Neil Kinnock might have asked, because they are thick? Or is it because the best state education goes to those whose parents can afford to live in leafier areas? Every parent who tries to get their kid into a good school knows the answer. Every atheist mother who sits church pews praying only for a school place knows the answer. Every parent in a council house dreading the day their child goes to the local sink school knows the answer. It’s sickening, a scandal that the Tories are trying to remedy with Michael Gove’s free schools (which are not coming nearly quickly enough).

For the record, I’m not in favour of bringing back grammar schools. They worked in their 1960s heyday, when they outclassed the private schools. But there are better, surer ways to promote social mobility now. Free schools are our best bet.

I conclude my Telegraph piece by saying that Cameron struggles to make this point. But he found his voice in his conference speech this week. The question is: can he keep it up? It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that this will decide the next election.

More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us now.

  • philip sayers

    yeh,right nelson.

  • Fergus Pickering

    Are poor children thicker than rich children, Fraser? Well, of course they are. As you well know. They always have been and it is getting worse as the poor stay poor and their children join them in poverty. Any poor person who scrambles out of this morass and becomes rich simply exacerbates the problem. If it is a problem. Perhaps the poor need looking after on their reservations, and stopped, insofar as it is possible, from drinking too much, getting too disgustingly fat, beating their children to a pulp, rioting etc etc. That is what social workers are for.

  • MinnieOvens

    “who will be just as bright as those with deep-pocketed parents.”
    Ah. You expect two parents with a combined IQ of over 230 to have children of exactly the same intelligence of those with a combined IQ of 150.
    Of course Mr Nelson.

  • Robert_Eve

    Why should it make me angry?

  • Barry

    The Left knows perfectly well that “the rich”, by definition, are well equipped to

    circumvent any leftwing measures that they don’t like. Taxing the rich is not about spreading equality which, if successful, would damage Labour, it’s about collecting votes. Nothing more.

  • Daniel Maris

    I am surprised you can be bothered with all this nonsense Fraser. Let’s just suppose by some freakoid circumstance that state schools started to do better, do you really think Cameron’s class would run up the white flag and say “OK you oiky chav types – you can take our jobs in the City, on the quangos, in the courts and everywhere else…” Er no, I don’t think so…By some miracle they will change the rules so that doesn’t eventuate.

    We no longer have an Empire so all the scions of the upper classes have got to be found various sinecures back home. The current system provides for Old Etonians to find really well paid jobs – and any future system sanctioned by Cameron will provide for Old Etonians to find really well paid jobs, of that you can be assured.

    That is the sad reality we have now.

    If we want to move beyond it we have to develop a strong direct democracy and a populist culture.

    The Tories of Today aren’t even in that game. Thatcher dipped her toes in it.

  • IamalrightJack

    I can’t believe anyone actually reads Fraser’s articles. He writes about economics and other related subjects yet he knows nothing about economics and is not economist. The way he presents facts (his facts) always shows half the story. He thinks the all people are stupid. Hence he can fabricate , give half truths and exaggerate the facts because, he thinks no will catch him out- we are all stupid plebs. His main aim in every article is to show there is a big problem and if not resolved the sky will fall in. Hence, we must change things now. Morover he writes as he is talking to a 10 yr olds and he can pull the wool over their eyes.

  • E Hart
  • E Hart

    What is the ratio of state to privately educated on the staff (journalists and admin) of the Spectator?

  • Heartless etc.,

    PLEASE! – do not portray this treacherous makeweight against our National Flag!

  • L’Arse

    Normally, when Christine Lagarde has something to say about austerity, Giddy George is somewhere within earshot, reinforcing her comments to the expectant press.

    Curiously enough, the Chancellor has disappeared from view since his conference speech earlier in the week. Perhaps one of his minions might care to pass on this message:

    Christine Lagarde has urged countries to put a brake on austerity measures amid signs that the IMF is becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of government cutbacks on growth. Ms Lagarde, IMF managing director, cautioned against countries front-loading spending cuts and tax increases. “It’s sometimes better to have a bit more time,” she said at the annual meetings of the IMF and the World Bank on Thursday.

    Hat-tip: FT

  • LB

    1. Pay parents to take their kids out of the state system. 6K a year for a state education. Offer 4K a year if they leave. 2/3rds of what the state spends you can use as a voucher.

    That gives the state system an extra 2K a year to spend for each that has left.

    What could they do with an extra 2K? Apart from waste it. Then there is no excuse.

  • gladiolys
  • peterb

    The problem is not the Children who are poor, it is the surroundings in which they live, Parents who quite frankly in most cases should have been sterilised at birth, drugs, low esteem from having a low education attainment leading to the parents having a low paid job or worse being a victim of Labours class war living a life captured in benefits hell. The fact the Teachers and their Unions put themselves first before these school kids means the sink estates do generally attract the poorest performing Teacher’s and the simple truth the Unions are so strong they never get sacked, just moved along to the next ‘Bog Standard’ school.

    I would like to see Gove’s revolution swing full circle, bring back Grammar schools at age 14 a more acceptable age than 11 now the leaving age is 18 years. Fund all bright kids who pass and if necessary provide housing benefit/ assistance for the parents to move to where the best schools / grammar schools are located. This is an investment in our country’s future.

    Then ban Unions and politicians from education privatise it 100% with the state transferring the responsibility and budget to an independent non profit making body, with a salary cap of 50k that looks after the entire school system. Introduce non academic schools, sports schools, craft schools, and at age 14 let those students choose what route they want to go down.

    And to help all future school leavers, introduce in the public sector a salary cap of 100k and with the money saved pay the bottom tiers a higher salary and maybe just maybe we can move forward.

    And in every school there should be two important pictures and messages on the board. An Atlas or picture of the globe with India, Brazil, China, Russia shown by population size of educated workers and a picture of the little Pakistani girl who was shot this week. Because one shows the student who they are in competition with and the other why they should appreciate the sacrifices it took for others to be taught in a school.

  • andagain

    “David Cameron is the leader battling inequality”

    In order to persuade people that you care about something or someone, you have to be seen to make sacrifices to benefit those people.

    Unless you can point to such a sacrifice, endless proclamations of how much you care about the little people – even if completely true – do more harm than good.

    • dalai guevara

      Exactly, where is the evidence?

      1- let’s abolish all affordable housing quota for new developments
      2- let’s declare Britain ‘open for business’, but avoid making concessions to the lower end of society
      3- let’s ‘spread the privilege’ by not heating our homes in winter, buy shares in Centrica instead, pocket the profits, move to Cayman and spread the wealth there.
      4- let’s ‘deliver’ more cuts to the front line, whilst printing money to bail out the gamblers.
      5- let’s ‘lift pupils out of poverty’ by cutting EMA, raising tuition fees and giving those with brains but no money a better start in life.

      My word, where has all the analytical capacity gone in Britain?

      • andagain

        If by that you mean that people should not think that Conservatives care much about people poorer than themselves, I believe this very website has quoted surveys saying that most people do not think that Conservatives care much about people poorer than themselves.

        • dalai guevara

          Frankly, it is not about money – otherwise there would be no such thing as a Conservative on the dole, or a Socialist with a bank account.

          It is a state of mind thing. All I wish to see is more justice, not permanent deceit for both sides of the spectrum.

          We need to be more honest about our true intentions.

  • james102

    Why should we expect the type of intelligence that results
    in academic success to be equally distributed across the various social/racial/sex
    groups we use?

    Even gifted academics seem to be rather specialised in their

    While we use Equal Outcomes as a performance indicator we
    will get nowhere, but seem to be too afraid to consider the alternative which
    is there is a strong genetic component, like there is for sporting ability.

  • London Calling

    In truth the results from swedish free schools proved no overal improvement if my memory serves me well. No doubt a handdful will excel but not all, therefore I dont see the whole educational syestem imoroving based on free schools.

    As for why poorer students fail I can only conclude the enviroment, lack of role models and good teaching…Playstation, mobile phones and other gadgets make up the rest of a distraction our youth are so consumed by…

    we should be doing much better than this, how to turn it around requires big thinking and a simple remedy……

  • George Igler

    The problem is that the modern political class is using a conceptual vocabulary (“fairness”, “inequality”, “one nation”) that no longer resonates with vast swathes of the electoral landscape.

    If you’re an unemployed 24 year old from a working class background, worried about your niece being pimped by a rape gang and the police looking the other way, the whole political establishment has nothing whatsoever of any worth to say to you. Such words mean nothing.

    • telemachus

      A numpty comment more fitting for Commentary wouldn’t you say

      • George Igler

        I would happily agree… if you would kindly point to which assertion is factually incorrect?

      • George_Arseborne

        If he is fighting to battle inequalities why is Mitchell still his chief whip after calling a police officer pleb? Chiarman of Tory party Shapps had a con website with pseudonym Micheal Green? His cash for policy system? This headline is just rubbish.

        • Fergus Pickering

          Most of the police ARE plebs, as opposed to posh I mean, whereas Army offcers are mostly posh. . People are divided into the posh and the plebs, are they not? Which are you, Arsebone? I’m a pleb, by the way. It would have been nice to be posh but alas these things are decided at birth. You can tell by a person’s accent usually. Julius Caesar was a pleb, though I don’t suppose you knew that. Pompey was posh but it didn’t do him much good. Margaret Thatcher, God bless her, is a pleb, and Tony Blair, may he rot in hell, is posh. The leaders of the Labour Party are unremittingly posh.

    • philip sayers

      just shows the shite being written on this site.

  • ToryOAP

    One can look to the current situation and see at its root a very simple mistake enacted by our benighted politicians for what they thought were the right intentions. The perverse destruction of the Grammar schools and of a perfectly good 2-tier exam system (GCE/CSE) has done more to damage the prospects of the poor than anything else in the last 40 years.

    • mattghg

      Indeed. Would be worth comparing those Sutton trust statistics with what they were before the near-abolition of Grammar schools.

    • telemachus associates

      The social divisiveness of the elitist grammar school system is what has led us to the many problems of today.
      Gove is aggravating the situation by his reprehensible pushing of free and academy schools

      • George Igler

        That would be the social divisiveness that led to grammar school educated Prime Ministers like Edward Heath and Howard Wilson, right?… Whereas now, post-grammar school smash up, we have Eton and Westminster grads in charge? Gotcha.

        Making as much sense as usual I see, Tele.

      • Scott

        That graph by Cook seems to prove you wrong. I am not rich but where I used to live I knew my son would not get a good education. The choice was to move to the USA with my American wife, or move to a “leafier”suburb. We decided to stay in the uk and move to a leafier suburb. We are so glad we did. I was petrified about the education of my son and how poor it would have been. But we have moved to a great school. How wealthy a suburb is, does generally reflect on how well a school does. You may not like the fact but I have had my own proof.

        • FergusPickering

          Indeed. My sister did exactly the same thing with the same result. I did not have to do it because we have grammar schools in Kent. Lucky old us. I haven’t noticed more social divisiveness in Kent than Sussex but perhaps I have not been looking hard enough.

  • L’Arse

    Ah, but will it decide the fate of the Corby by-election?

  • james102

    The Fallacy of Proportionate Outcomes.

Can't find your Web ID? Click here