Thursday, January 15, 2009

BritGov wants to improve "social mobility" but has no clue how to make it happen

Now that all their numbskull theories about the matter have failed, all that they can now come up with is to enforce equality by the weight of the law

In 1999 Tony Blair told the Labour Conference: "If we are in politics for one thing, it is to make sure that all children are given the best chance in life." A decade on, the Government has had to admit that billions of pounds of investment in nurseries and schools and on training has failed to bridge the class divide, and that social mobility in Britain has stalled.

Yesterday ministers from various departments put forward measures to try to get it moving again. From schemes to help poor mothers, through offers to help teachers stay in the schools where they are most needed, to the creation of more apprenticeships, the Government described the White Paper as its "agenda for capturing the jobs of the future and investing in families, communities and citizens throughout their lives to help them get on and ahead".

In the most controversial move, discrimination on the ground of class could be made illegal, just as it is with race and sex, and public services would be ordered to fight "the persistent inequality of social class". That was immediately dismissed by critics as meaningless.

Pregnant teenagers and mothers living in the most deprived areas will be allocated a family nurse to help them through the first two years of their child's life. Free nursery care will also be extended to more two-year-olds from poor backgrounds.

Gordon Brown, who has promised a social mobility "crusade", avoided mentioning Labour's poor record when he presented the New Opportunities White Paper. Instead, the Prime Minister said that the policy initiatives would mean that Britain was better placed to take advantage of the economic upturn, when it came. "We want to prepare the UK to grasp new opportunities in the global economy and enable every individual to realise their potential, whatever their background," he said.

Ed Balls, the Education Secretary, came closer to admitting the problem. "No child should be held back by their background, so we will now do more to break the link between disadvantage and achievement," he said.

But it is widely accepted that social mobility has ground to a halt in recent decades. The key study alerting ministers to the problem was published in 2005 by the Sutton Trust. It found a significant decline in upward mobility between those born in 1958 and those born in 1970. The study focused on income mobility and concluded that people born in 1970 were far more likely to earn the same as their parents than those born 12 years earlier. The Sutton Trust attributed this not just to a persistent class divide, but to the growing income inequality of the 1980s and the vast expansion of higher education, which was monopolised by the middle classes. Both trends continued into the new millennium. Between the early 1980s and the late 1990s the proportion of poorer children who graduated from university rose by 3 per cent, compared with 26 per cent from wealthier families.

Also the huge expansion of managerial and professional jobs in the postwar era tailed off in the 1970s, which meant there was less room at the top. And the decline of manufacturing in the 1980s meant that the shop floor-to-boardroom route to success went into decline. In the financial services industry that largely replaced it, it is less likely that a receptionist ends up as a high-earning trader.

Recent research has indicated that all the billions spent on schools may have little impact on improving poorer children's prospects. It found that middle-class children are far ahead even before they arrive at school, thanks to music, ballet and language lessons. Poor children have fallen behind in cognitive skills and vocabulary by the age of 3 [which strongly indicates that the difference is hereditary], making it almost impossible for schools to help to them catch up.

A report last year by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development found that in the UK children struggle to escape the income levels of their parents more than in almost any other country in the group. "There is less social mobility in the UK than in Australia, Canada and Denmark," it said. "What your parents earned when you were a child has much more effect on your own earnings than in more mobile countries."

Ministers are pinning their hopes on one study that suggests that their record investment may be bearing fruit. Data provided by Bristol University, the London School of Economics and the Institute of Fiscal Studies for a government report last autumn indicated that children's academic achievement, measured by the number of GCSEs they pass, is becoming less dependent on their family's wealth. [That's because the exams have been dumbed down]

But the Sutton Trust, while welcoming the measures outlined yesterday, said Mr Brown would have to be far more radical in his reforms if he wanted to improve the life chances of every child. It wants private shools to be opened up to all. [Right. Privatise education completely. Abolish the "sink" government schools] "The aspiration of making every school a good school is, of course, right, but there also need to be more moves to open up the highest-performing schools as powerful engines of mobility, leading to top-ranked universities and prestigious professions," said Lee Elliot Major, research director at the trust. Such a move would require an admissions shake-up including ballots and means-tested fees, he said. [Too much of a shake-up might destroy what they aspire to]


Harriet the hater

Today's White Paper on social mobility should concern anyone who cares about justice and liberty, for it is not about social mobility at all. It is in fact a blueprint for imposing `equality' through every single arm of government. Already, every public authority in Britain is legally bound to ensure that policies do not unfairly discriminate on grounds of race, gender, disability or sexuality - a requirement which has actually brought about much injustice. Now they will be similarly bound to bridge the gap between rich and poor.

And how are they going to do this? Inescapably, by taking away from the better off what they have achieved on the basis that this is unjustified `privilege', and giving it to the poor on the basis that they are unable to achieve by themselves. And this from a government which has itself spent the last decade destroying the life chances of millions of poor people by undermining the nuclear family, bringing the education system to its knees and trapping more and more people in welfare dependency. Instead of genuinely helping those who have been unable to make it, they will instead punish those who have. And they call that `fairness'!

Social mobility is actually the antithesis of equality, because if people are able to progress higher up the social and income ladder it follows that others will be left behind. Social mobility inevitably rests upon a meritocracy in which people are rewarded for what they have achieved. This is the only fair system. Imposing `equality' - which is really a kind of `identicality', a belief that everyone must end up in exactly the same place - is monumentally unfair. It amounts to institutionalised discrimination based on the highly subjective and ideological prejudices of those in power to decide just who deserves to be privileged and who to be discriminated against.

Accordingly, any moves to apply it are inevitably deeply coercive and in the end unattainable - as was proved so appallingly under Soviet communism. For the British government to introduce this Orwellian agenda is not just sinister - it is positively unhinged.

The person said to be behind this is that middle-class paragon, the Equalities Minister Harriet Harman, who is said to have convinced her Cabinet colleagues of the need to enshrine the class war in law. In a speech this weekend, she will hail this move as a step towards `a new social order'. `We want to do more than just provide escape routes out of poverty for a talented few. We want to tackle the class divide,' she will say.

This is but the latest bit of cack-handed injustice from Harman, an ultra-feminist gender warrior who has spent much of her political career trying to institutionalise injustice against men and privilege women on the basis of `sexual equality'.

Much is made of Gordon Brown's unreconstructed redistributive socialism. But in fact Harman is the most conspicuous example of another important characteristic of this government: its state of fossilised adolescence. After all, listening to her is a bit like entering a time-warp and being subjected to some ghastly student radical circa 1970 nasally boring on about the class/gender/race struggle. That's because she - and a number of her ministerial colleagues - were indeed part of that generation of privileged baby-boomers who indulged in adolescent fantasy politics about changing society and human nature - but who, crucially, never grew out of it.

What then happened was that between 1979 and 1997 they were kept out of power by three successive Conservative administrations. And when they finally clawed their way into government, they were then in a position to put into practice the adolescent politics which had been stored in aspic and beyond which they had never progressed.

The way forward is obvious. The Equalities Minister must put her money where her mouth is. By her own lights, the best way the public school-educated Harman could do her bit to `tackle the class divide' would surely be to step down as an MP forthwith so that a working-class person could take her place.


The privileged life of hypocrite Harperson

Who better to 'tackle the class divide' and move Britain 'towards a new social order' than Harriet Harman who is both the most upper class and the most hypocritical member of the cabinet. Some of her colleagues were educated privately but Harman had the smartest education of all, at St Paul's Girls School in London. But that wasn't surprising, because she comes from a very grand family. Her father was a Harley Street doctor and her mother a lawyer. Her aunt married the left-wing social reformer the fifth Earl of Longford, and her cousin is Lady Antonia Fraser, the author who was married to the playwright Harold Pinter.

No doubt she would acknowledge that she had a fine start in life, but she could have put all that behind her when she married the left-wing firebrand and political agitator Jack Dromey. But it seems that Harman, while determined to iron out class privilege for others, was not prepared to subject her own children to the local comprehensive. Her eldest son was sent to the selective Roman Catholic secondary school, the Oratory, where Tony Blair also educated his children. At the time she dismissed the accusation of hypocrisy by claiming it was because her husband was a Catholic.

Next, however, she sent her second son to St Olave's - an Anglican selective grammar school in Orpington, Kent, a good long way from her deprived South London constituency. There was a huge row of course, as not everyone in the Labour party understood how Harman was able to square this with her class-warrior opposition to selective education. But that didn't worry the woman who is now Labour's deputy leader, nor did it stop her sending her daughter to Grey Coat school, yet another selective grammar in Westminster.

So this child of privilege, who has been determined to give the same gilded start in life to her own children, now wishes to instigate a class war pogrom across the public sector, requiring every state institution to take class background into account in all of its decisions. It's hard to know which is more exasperating. The stupidity of wasting huge amounts of time and money on a political crusade that would have been out of date in the Seventies or the hypocrisy that this appalling policy has been suggested by Harriet Harman.

This is, after all, the politician whom her late colleague Gwyneth Dunwoody once called 'one of those certain, particular, women who are of the opinion that they had a God-given right to be among the chosen'.



By Barry Rubin

Last December, Hamas unilaterally ended its ceasefire with Israel and escalated the kind of cross-border attacks continually attempted even during the ceasefire. With massive public support, Israel struck back against a neighboring regime which daily attacked its citizens and called for its extermination.

For decades, Israel's history shows a general pattern: its neighbors attack, Israel responds, Israel wins the war, and the world rushes to ensure that its victory is limited or nullified. If, as sometimes happens, the diplomatic process really improves the situation and provides progress for peace that, of course, is beneficial.

Yet Israel's experience has shown that international promises made in return for its material concessions are often broken. Most recently, in 2006 the international community pledged to keep Hizballah out of south Lebanon and curb its arms' supply, failed totally, yet took no action in response to this defeat. Israel is understandably skeptical.

In addition, Israelis know that Hamas is totally dedicated to their personal and collective destruction. The group will not moderate, cannot be bought off, and will not respect any agreement it makes. As a result, the usual kinds of diplomatic tools-concessions, confidence-building, agreements, moderation resulting from having governmental responsibilities, will not work. Any solution short of Hamas's fall from power will bring more fighting in future.

What should happen is that the international community cooperates in the removal of the Hamas regime. It is an illegal government, brought to power by an unprovoked war against the Palestinian Authority (PA) which was the internationally recognized regime in the Gaza Strip. Hamas may have won the elections but it then seized total power, suspended representative government, and destroyed the opposition.

Moreover, Hamas is a radical terrorist group which openly uses antisemitic rhetoric and actively seeks to wipe Israel off the map. It oppresses the Palestinian population and leads them into endless war. It teaches young Palestinians that their career goal should not be as a teacher, engineer, or doctor but as a suicide bomber.

From a strategic standpoint, Hamas is a member of the Iran-Syria alliance which seeks to overthrow every Arab regime in the Middle East and replace it with an anti-Western, war-oriented, radical Islamist dictatorship. Hamas's survival is a big threat to both Western interests and to those of Arab nationalist regimes. Keeping Hamas in power is equivalent to an energetic Western diplomatic effort to have kept the Taliban regime in power in Afghanistan, despite its role in the September 11 attacks.

If, however, the world is not going to support Hamas's fall from office, Israel cannot bring about this result by itself. At the same time, the world will be making a big mistake if it pushes for a ceasefire at any price, thus encouraging future violence and terrorism, not only regarding Gaza but also in the region generally.

What then are Israel's options? Two possible outcomes are rejected: Israel will not take control of the Gaza Strip again, and Israel will not accept a return to the previous situation in which Hamas repeatedly attacked Israel under cover of a ceasefire. There are at least six major things Israel can obtain realistically:

--The practical weakening of Hamas. Granted it will continue to be aggressive in future, its losses will reduce Hamas's ability to hurt Israeli citizens.

--Deterrence, while retaining its longer-term goals, Hamas will be more reluctant to attack Israel lest it produce another such Israeli response.

--Border control, a change from the situation in which Hamas can import weapons fairly freely to a stricter order in which humanitarian aid but not arms can come in.

--The return of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, seized in a Hamas attack on Israeli soil and held hostage, lacking any contact with international humanitarian groups.

--A reduction of Hamas's standing among Palestinians. Despite macho and religious rhetoric about Hamas's strength, Gaza Palestinians are more eager for a return of the PA; West Bank citizens, living under more moderate PA rule, realize that extremism is disastrous.

--Regional perception of Hamas's defeat, lowering support for the Iran-Syria alliance and encouraging more moderate Arab forces to resist radical Islamism and Tehran's power.

Despite this being the best realistic program, Israel also knows significant factors that might mean it won't work entirely:

--Hamas will break any agreement and not change.

--The international community is weak and contains tendencies toward appeasing extremists to avoid trouble.

--Egypt even when well-intended is not so efficient at controlling the border

Thus, even this best-case scenario has problems. First, Hamas will return to building up its forces for future confrontations, teaching a whole generation that it should prepare to sacrifice itself to achieve a "final solution" of the Israel problem. In short, any outcome that leaves Hamas in place is at best a lull until the next round.

Second, it is quite possible that within days or weeks of any agreement, Hamas-partly to prove to itself and others how it remains unbowed-will return to firing rockets and mortar rounds into Israel as well as trying to carry out terrorist attacks across the border. In that case, Israel will have to respond much more seriously than it has in the past to such behavior. A world which guarantees the ceasefire better be prepared to remember Israel's legitimate interests in enforcing it.

Finally, as long as Hamas survives as rulers of the Gaza Strip, it will be impossible to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The PA will be too intimidated to make compromises and cannot even deliver its own people. There can be no Palestinian state with half the territory being controlled by an organization which will never accept an agreement and will do everything possible to wreck it.

"Saving" Hamas and making the main or sole priority pushing for a ceasefire at any price is a very short-sighted policy for the international community which will be paid for in future. If the Gaza war is going to be ended, it should be in the framework of solving the problems that let Hamas create the war in the first place.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center


Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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