David Cameron is in need of advice right now and there’s plenty of it in the new Spectator – not least from Justine Greening, his International Development Secretary. Her interview with Melissa Kite makes clear that the party needs to focus more on social mobility – and tell the story which is not exactly hardly embodied by its Etonian and Pauline leadership.
“I know what it is like growing knowing you are not starting in the best place, and that people are having a better start than you are,”
The party needs “understanding what it’s like to start from scratch more,” she says. More than whom? She’s too discreet to say. Melissa takes up the story…
The elephant in the room is David Cameron’s privilege. But every time the elephant makes its presence felt, the MP for Putney smiles and politely sidesteps its massive bulk…
‘My first job was working in Morrisons supermarket in Rotherham.’ I am mindful as she says this that Cameron’s first (and only) job in the private sector was at Carlton television in the 1990s. In their biography of the Prime Minister, Francis Elliot and James Hanning reveal that he was hired after Annabel Astor asked her friend Michael Green, chairman of Carlton, to employ her future son-in-law.
Back to Greening. ‘For me the reason I’m Conservative is because I think that is fundamental to what this party has always been about. Margaret Thatcher’s message to me was, it doesn’t matter where you come from, this is a country where the effort you put in will mean you can get the reward out of it. She was creating a country that was smoothing my path. I could decide how far I got. Even though I didn’t have a whole load of people around me who had already gone to university, it gave me that encouragement to get on.’
Melissa then asks if she would like to see more Morrisons alumni in government. Greening replies:-
‘Yes, I would. I think it’s really important. One of the reasons it’s important to talk about this is there are actually lots of people in the Conservative party who know what it’s like to start at the bottom… I know how it feels to be slightly locked out of the system.’ It may be the controversy surrounding the reshuffle, in which Greening went unpromoted and other strong women were put in some incongruous positions, but again I feel the poignancy relates to her situation now, as well as then.