Yesterday, George Osborne dedicated himself the mission of ‘full employment’. Today, Michael Gove has given a speech declaring that the Conservatives are the ‘party of social justice’. This is not positioning – it’s simply stating the obvious.
Thanks to Gove, the best hope a council estate kid has of dodging the local sink school is for a new school to open nearby. The Gove reforms don’t help the rich – the education system works fine for them. The best state schools are filled with the state pupils from the richest backgrounds. Ed Balls was sent private, as his dad (who used to teach at Eton) had wisely saved money and rightly sought to invest this in his child. The same is true for Tristram Hunt’s parents. They will be proud to see their investment pay off, as their children fully develop their gifts climb to the top of the political tree. If you have the cash, in Britain, there is no need for school reform. The system works fine for you.
But those who don’t have such money have much to fear from the Ed Balls and Tristram Hunts of this world. Both of them seem determined that the ladder extended to them does not go to children from more modest homes, by stopping new schools from opening (if there are places to fill in bad schools). To the Tories, education is about the child. To Labour, it’s about the adults: the teaching unions, and the bad schools that fear competition. You don’t need to be a genius to work out which is the party of social justice.
It’s also encouraging to see George Osborne interested in the social justice agenda, having previously been a tad suspicious of mission-driven politicians. But he is richly entitled to use such language: the agenda of tax cuts is nothing less than an emancipation.