James Kirkup James Kirkup

Education, not class, is Britain’s real political divide

Social class is dead. Education is the political dividing line that matters. This has been apparent since (at least) the 2016 EU referendum, although it has not been recognised by enough people who do and write about politics. The results of this week’s elections should drive the point home.

According to early analysis of polling by elections demigod Sir John Curtice, there are some parts of England where the Labour party actually made some modest gains in yesterday’s elections. In places – mostly urban – where a high proportion of the population has a university degree, Labour got a small positive swing. Meanwhile, Sir John reckons, council areas with a higher proportion of people with no qualifications saw a swing of around ten points towards the Conservatives.

If that analysis is borne out in the final results – and I am sure it will be – then this election will be another step towards a future where the Conservatives are the party of non-graduates and Labour champions graduates. In other words, a political system that has more and more in common with the United States, where Republicans increasingly win votes from non-college voters, and Democrats from graduates. To be clear, I’m not at all sure this is a good thing. Education as a dividing line has any number of adverse consequences for a society. My point here it not to welcome that trend, just to observe it – and hope that others do to. It needs more attention.

Even discussing this issue can be tricky. There are sadly too many people who confuse ‘education’ with ‘intelligence’.

Hartlepool looks like a good illustration of the point. As my SMF colleagues have pointed out, Hartlepool is the apprenticeship capital of England: more school-leavers there go on to higher technical qualifications than anywhere else.

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