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David Belchamber

A very interesting and thought provoking thesis, Andrew. I share your views on several of the points but I am not entirely convinced by your argument about "equality of opportunity", especially where education is concerned.

I would say that, in practical terms, we should be aiming for "greater opportunity for all", rather than "equality of opportunity". Blair got rid of the Assisted Places Scheme which helped pupils from poorer backgrounds to get into independent schools. These are building up their bursary funds partly to replace that loss.

Grammar schools, whatever DC might say, are established and have for centuries provided a ladder for advancement for intelligent pupils from poor backgrounds.

These days there are just too few of them to be really useful (164 in the whole country); in Germany over 2M children are educated in their equivalent. A similar provision in this country would raise standards enormously.

The best we can hope for is that the tories will bring back Grant Maintained schools which did improve standards for the 1100 or so that adopted GM status.

Ken Stevens

Oh you are disappointing me this week, AL!

How on earth can equality of opportunity in education be unethical and unfair to the less well-placed members of society. At my State grammar school half a century ago, a few kids were enabled to win awards of scholarships to Oxbridge through their ability, despite limited parental means. That equality of opportunity had absolutely no deleterious effect on the prospects of the rest of us dunderheads. I just can't see how you can describe equality of opportunity in that respect so starkly as unethical and destructive (except to the extent that the year above me produced a Labour minister!).

"If you are beautiful, clever, witty, and healthy, you will get ahead in life. If you are ugly, stupid, bad-tempered, and unhealthy you will fail, and no-one is allowed to help you." That seems a reasonable statement of the facts of life - if you exclude the last phrase ".. and no one allowed to help you". On what basis do you make that contention? Are there no ugly, stupid, bad-tempered people who achieved success as politicians, for example?

As for advocating an extension of State involvement in education and health provision, selling varying levels of service according to ability to pay, hey, why not just go the whole hog and nationalise the likes of BUPA and Eton!

Go on Andrew, admit that you're a closet socialist ;-)

Henry Mayhew - Ukipper


You really have showed up David Cameron, David Willetts and all the 'non-delusional' Tories who backed David Willetts' speech on grammar schools.

I hope that readers of your superb and very moving piece will come to their senses and tell DC, DW, and their fellow-travellers to belt up. It must be worth having that fight now that the banking crisis is going to make GB more vulnerable. There is plenty of time before the next election to work through these absolutely critical issues. For the sake of the children of this country that opportunity must be taken.

Many thanks for your articulate and very important piece. Another classic CH article. Dave, are you reading this?

Account Deleted

This is a bold, well thought out article.

I thought that the Willett’s speech was awful in parts (and I like him in general), reading along the lines that, some people don’t help their children, some do, so we must level down to make things ‘fairer’… Completely Socialist thinking.

But back to the topic – I agree up to a point with this article. There is no reason why pure equality of opportunity should be aimed for (on the other hand, like equality or individual responsibility, I think it is something which should be balanced against other objectives as a good outcome). To pursue such ideological purity would and is harsh and uncaring of the real world we live in (as Andrew outlines).

But back to the real world.

Allowing top up vouchers is probably a good idea in the long run. At present there would be a huge cost to any proposed ‘top-up voucher’ as all those currently paying for private health and education took up their vouchers. All those paying for private education would, in effect, get a £5,000 (or whatever) rebate. This would be, in effect, a huge tax refund to the upper middle class.

To balance this some tax cuts for low earners (doubling the income tax threshold is a favourite and enduring idea) would have to be thrown into the mix.

Currently however I think both are about as likely as a flying piggy bank over Northern Rock…

Stephen Warrick

I was really with you up to a point....

I loved the horizontal versus verical choice based system, ie via vouchers.

The melon-heads who regularly winge on here that David Cameron is the new anti-christ and such gibberish, fail to appreciate that our only problem as a party is one of communicating our principles and governing ambitions in a postive and relative fashion.

I fervently believe that voucher based choice, and level-of-service choice will be the same "gut appeal" policy to the present 20/30/40-something generation that St. Margaret's Council House Sales & Share privatisations had a generation ago.

Sadly you lose me though by appearing to advocate increased state intervention in services already provided by the market.

The state should be funder and/or service gauarantor rather than monolopy service provider.

To paraphrase PJ O'Rourke:

".....If the Government ran deserts....there'd be a shortage of sand
within 6 months!!!"


Two separate points
I agree that equality of opportunity is not a very Conservative philosophy but it is the best possible cover for a very conservative philosophy - inequality of outcome. It is very difficult to sell the latter in 2007 without holding out the prospect of the former. EoO is necessary not necessarily desirable. The problem with equality of opportunity is twofold. It has nothing to do with discouraging parental care. Firstly, if EoO is rigorously applied you will create a second class of perpetual failure who will have to watch through the window at the beautiful and clever disporting themselves and who know they *deserve* not to be there. This is far harder to bear than assuming its down to Them or Fate being beastly, which has been possible up to now. Secondly, EoO has to be seen to work properly. Where you have quotas for public school entry to Oxbridge or more insidiously where you have excellence defined so loosely that EoO becomes a lottery eg 25% A grades at A level.

Where I disagree is your second half. Why would one want to buy extra from the State. It cannot provide basic services properly why ask it to complicate the process. As you say in your first half, it is far better that the State should fund equally these services through vouchers - for health and education - and allow people to decide what and where they buy services.
What i think would be a good idea is to allow local top up vouchers (as well as personal top up). Local communities should be able to vote for the voucher for people in their area to be higher than the national voucher and pay for the excess out of local funding, raised locally. Of course this requires local income tax but I am letting by LibDem side show!

Simon Newman

"Equality of Opportunity" is a principle to limit the State's interference in the life of its citizens, by not privileging one class of people (eg aristocrats, whites) over another (eg commoners, blacks). It is not supposed to apply to how individuals behave towards each other - preventing parents from seeking to benefit their children is clearly totalitarian.

One of the great tragedies of modern life is that many such principles, developed and articulated as limitations on State power, have been abused to extend State power into every nook and cranny of our lives. Another example is the privacy right in the ECHR - it was developed to prevent the State snooping into our lives; now thanks to its misapplication by judges it's used to regulate our lives and limit our free speech.

Letters From A Tory

The state should fund but not provide health and education. The welfare state is certainly skewed in terms of who it provides for and what it provides, but will take a bold Prime Minister or even opposition leader to start restructuring it.

Andrew Lilico


I'm sorry to be a disappointment to you! I must try harder in future!

I don't believe for one moment that you actually believe in equality of opportunity, for all your protestations to the contrary. You favour grammar schools. My guess is that you favour them because they give an opportunity for talented children of poor backgrounds to make something of themselves through their talents. Am I right? Now I ask: Would you, for *one second* consider taking away that opportunity from those children based on the argument that not everyone had the same (equal) opportunity? My guess is that you would think it *utterly ridiculous* to suggest removing opportunity from people because they had more opportunity than others - am I right? If I am, then you don't believe in equality of opportunity - you believe in opportunity (which is almost the opposite idea).

Next, Ken, to your comment "On what basis do you make that contention? Are there no ugly, stupid, bad-tempered people who achieved success as politicians, for example?" You are right, but that is partly because in our own society opportunity is (mercifully) not even remotely equal in all kinds of ways. People leave money to their children, help the disabled, favour their friends, and do all kinds of other loving things that equality of opportunity would prohibit or negate.

To others of you, that have expressed a "moderation in all things, even equality of opportunity" thought, I put the following: I believe that a society in which there is extensive opportunity is a good society. But I do not believe that having lots of opportunity available is a stepping stone on the path to equality of opportunity (a "moderate degree of equality of opportunity") any more than I believe that having lots of wealth is a steeping stone on the path to equality of wealth.

There should be opportunity. And it is also right that we try to provide mechanisms of opportunity for those that are not loved. But love must be allowed to have its effect - those that are loved and helped must be permitted to do better than those that are not.

One other thing. Some of you have expressed dismay that I would suggest state involvement in public services. Although I do believe that this would be the best mechanism, at least initially, for delivering certain of the examples I mention (e.g. unemployment insurance), my comments in the article are intended only to demonstrate the conceptual separation of horizontal and vertical choice in public services - there can be horizontal choice without vertical choice (as Labour favours), and there could be vertical choice without horizontal choice (as in the thought experiments I mention).

Ken Stevens

Andrew Lilico | 03:00 PM
"..I must try harder in future!.."
Jolly good; looking forward to it!

"..You favour grammar schools.."
Not specifically & exclusively. I seek the attainment of the true objective of comprehensive schools: to facilitate the achievement of excellence in whatever field a child shows aptitude and interest for, whether that be traditional grammar-style academic or vocational at various levels. Whether such an ideal is now realistic is moot, given the tendency towards levelling down, both institutionally and as regards the seemingly insoluble problem of peer pressure within many schools that clever is uncool.

I'm certainly not suggesting that those who scrimp to pay for additional tutoring, can afford private education or a more expensive house within the catchment area of a very successful State school, or whatever, should be in any way hindered from deploying such advantages. It is simply that a kid with motivation and ability should not be denied access to a better standard of education because of lack of means. It is in the national interest to maximise available potential. Upon completion of that equally opportuned education, it is then up to the individual to seek to make best use of it. Subsequently there may well be, to pinch Jonathan's phrase, inequality of outcome. Maybe I mean "equality of access to opportunity", if that isn't too tautologous.

Incidentally, I presume that "..those that are loved and helped must be permitted to do better than those that are not" means that they should not be hindered from doing so, rather than that you would make such advantage compulsory ;-)

The Culture Warrior

I agree entirely that equality of opportunity is not a viable reality. Instead of equality of opportunity, we should push for upwardsly increasing standards. Afterall, voucherisation (which I support whole heartedly) would not create an equal quality of education, but it would push quality upwards for all. Indeed, the very notion of voucherisation is inequality, insofar as each education institution will be independent and different. Diversity is a good thing...sometimes.

I very much disagree with your strange statist solution though. I don't see why it's necessary to involve the state as a compulsury producer at all. That surely defeats the original point? 'Yes, you can have vouchers, and you can have a wide choice of schools to choose from. The only catch is, we own all the schools.'

Henry Mayhew - Ukipper


Great stuff from you. It is typical that most of the small range of comments are nit-picking irrelevancies to your central message.

Maybe some day the Tories will take ideas seriously again and actually get behind some. In the meantime it is back to looking at Lembit in Hello. Why do we bother?

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