Labour are floundering in their own muck, and their latest argument against Theresa May’s grammar school scheme is just further evidence of why their anti-ambition rhetoric can’t beat the Tories.
Theresa May has swept into her premiership with confidence: a clear direction for her government that has earned her a huge lead in early polls. Ipsos Mori have calculated damning figures for the left: a 16 percentage point lead for May, a 90 seat majority if she were to call an early general election, and in a hardly surprising turn of events, a mere 9 per cent chance of Labour winning the next election.
Her latest initiative, compared to her staunch defence and victory on the Trident issue, isn’t particularly controversial: 20 new grammar schools to be built in the UK’s poorest areas. Polls show that 50 per cent of the population support her policy, and only 10 per cent actually oppose them, but both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have promised to fight tooth and nail for the 1998 Act the last Labour government passed outlawing any more grammar schools from being built.
To many, the issue is a non-entity, and will only serve to enhance public perception of the Labour Party, and arguably the left in general – that they detest ambition, enterprise and social mobility. Instead, as Margaret Thatcher famously claimed (with different, slightly confused wording) during her final Prime Minister’s Questions, a Labour government would “close the wealth gap” by bringing down the middle classes and keeping the working class exactly where they are.
Grammar schools have long been a fantastic vehicle for social mobility, providing opportunities for children whose parents cannot afford to send them to private schools. The argument for the opposition, that grammar schools only ever took on middle-class children, is nullified by Theresa May’s plan to build the new schools in Britain’s poorest areas. By building schools in disadvantaged areas, grammar schools must either take on children from less privileged backgrounds or fail to fill their quotas.
This is without even considering that parents should have as much choice as possible when deciding where to send their children to school. The reintroduction of grammar schools will lead to competition between schools, in turn leading to a higher calibre of teaching and greater innovation in education in order to attract students. Indeed, Hampshire, with a population of 1.32 million people, only has 13 Ofsted rated “outstanding” secondary schools out of 70 schools: comprehensive schools are not currently at the level they should be. A recent article arguing against the return of grammars on the ConservativeHome website highlighted the frailty of the opposition’s position – it seems the only real stance against grammar schools is out of principle: the principle that the only social mobility we should be seeing is the demise of the middle-classes.
The 2015 Beckett Report, an investigation in to why the Labour party lost the last general election, cited one of Ed Milliband’s key issues as his apparent condemnation of ambition: promises of hefty inheritance tax on homes, and a greater squeeze for the top tax bracket amongst others. Surely noble in principle, to many people in comparatively wealthy Britain, all Labour appear to want to do is punish hard-working, successful homeowners rather than encouraging people to aspire. Even Owen Smith, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership challenger at the time of writing, cited by the media and many in the Parliamentary Labour Party as the moderate saviour of broad-church Labour, suffers from the same issue. In his pledges for Labour and the UK, he promised to slap a “wealth tax” on the top one per cent. Even the phrasing is ridiculous. Really, what is the issue with aspiring to wealth and success?
Even George Aylett, an unshakeable supporter of Jeremy Corbyn who made headlines as a 19-year-old Labour parliamentary candidate in 2015, recently stated in this publication that Labour needed to do more to appeal to the middle classes. The Conservatives, particularly in Theresa May’s youthful government, have the right line to attract disillusioned Labour voters, whether you agree with it or not. She’s advocating industrial strategy, rather than the traditional Thatcherite adoration for the free market and personal enterprise, whilst still reducing the welfare state and making those on benefits less reliant on government.
It’s an age-old argument, but one that has been exacerbated by the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and his Trotskyite faction. Labour’s promise to oppose grammar schools at all costs is acrimonious – despite the fact that Mr Corbyn himself attended one. The Labour leader’s stance against grammar schools is so ridiculous that he actually divorced his wife because she wanted to send their son to one, rather than Corbyn’s choice of a failing comprehensive.
The concept of grammar schools is one that needs work, but in the right hands, it could be a valuable tool for thousands of working class children looking to get ahead. If Labour continue failing to offer something for ambitious, working families (and their grammar schools policy shows their intention not to) they will continue to push their voters to the right and hand almost unfettered power to their opponents on the other side of the House.