“For liberals, this is core stuff.” So spoke Nick Clegg today at the Sutton Trust, in a much-discussed speech on the need to promote social mobility.
His address should be praised for bringing class – always a loaded word in this country – back into mainstream discussion, at a time John Prescott’s claim that “we’re all middle class now” looks increasingly hollow to a lot of voters. However the jury is still out on Clegg’s legitimacy at the forefront of this debate, before we can assess the true effects of rises in tuition fees and cuts to EMA.
The deputy prime minister claimed that his birth, education and opportunities were exactly the reason he – and others like him – should be promoting emphasis on greater social mobility. The Liberal Democrat leader must have had a hundred different adages in front of him on Britain’s obsession with class when he told the assembled audience: “Class still counts. We are a long distance from being a classless society.”
In a step towards a dreamy classless society perhaps, and another towards greater transparency, the Cabinet Office today published its report on social mobility. The figures say progress has been made in chances of poor children doing well at key stage two, in making good development in early years, in doing well at GCSE, and doing as well as richer pupils at school, as well as in adults who failed at school getting GCSEs or A-Levels after 19. Yet most of his 17 indicators do not yet show information post-2010.
Social mobility is core liberal stuff, but in 2012, the legacy of cuts, tuition fees, EMA and other contentious coalition-bred proposals like the Beecroft Report will be a battleground on which Clegg must win.
An exclusive ComRes poll in the June issue of Total Politics found that 50% of the public believe the Liberal Democrats have “almost no influence over government policy”.
Promoting a core liberal value like social mobility is exactly what the party should be focusing on to turn our recent poll figures around.