There is a clear feeling among British people that success is more to do with class and connections than talent – but there is resistance to both left and right-leaning solutions
Former Conservative Prime Minister John Major recently attacked what he called the “truly shocking” fact that “In every single sphere of British influence, the upper echelons of power in 2013 are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class”. Though his attack was directed at Labour, his comments were viewed as a challenge to David Cameron, whose Cabinet is 62% private and two-thirds Oxbridge educated.
YouGov research from earlier this year finds significant unrest among the British public over the difficulty for ordinary people to move through society’s ranks. However the unease is counterbalanced by resistance to many proposed solutions.
The majority of British adults (56%) say senior professions are unfairly dominated by people from affluent middle class backgrounds. 31% say they are open to people of all backgrounds.
By 44%-32%, British society is felt to have become less mobile in the last thirty years.
And 48% say knowing the right people and having the right connections is most likely to bring people career success, while 32% pin it down to getting a good education and 16% say it is due to innate abilities and talents.
However the two most commonly proposed measures to counterbalance this problem – one on the left and one on the right of the political spectrum – are both met with resistance.
One proposal is positive discrimination: lowering university entry requirements for those from backgrounds where the odds are stacked against them. 49% oppose this while 29% support it.
An alternative is more selective education: creating Grammar schools allowed to select the brightest pupils from any background and give them a better chance. 46% oppose creating more of these or closing existing ones, while 37% say there should be more. In fact, support for creating more grammar schools appears to be dropping slightly since June.
Both Conservative and Labour governments dismantled grammar schools from the late sixties onwards - either replacing them with fee-paying or comprehensive institutions. There now remain 164 grammar schools in Britain, but despite some championing them as a solution to social immobility they remain middle class institutions: while 18% of state school pupils are on free school meals, at grammar schools only 3% are.