Conservative Diary

« Over 70% of ConHome panellists want Lansley's reforms to go ahead | Main | Cameron condemns "wicked and cowardly" murder of Ulster policeman »

In defence of David Willetts

by Paul Goodman

WILLETTS DAVID NW I return once again to my old friend Daniel Hannan's definition of a gaffe: "A statement of the obvious by a public person".  Yesterday, David Willetts was reported as having said that feminism was "the biggest single factor" in the decline of social mobility since the 1960s".  This morning, in the Financial Times (£), he repeats his explanation: “The point I was making was that, given that you have the phenomenon whereby well-paid men and women tend to marry each other, if you then measure income inequality it has the effect of widening income groups as measured by households."

Some will doubtless say that politicians shouldn't talk like social scientists.  But rather ones that talk like social scientists, please, than ones than talk like clones.  On his subject - social policy - Willetts is knowledgeable, fluent and (believe it or not) clear, not to mention interesting.  If you doubt it, have a go at his "The Pinch", reviewed here with copious references to heavy petting, pregnant brides and vampire bats.  It's a thoughtful exploration of the opportunity gap between different generations.  How many Cabinet members, by the way, write books?

If criticism of Willetts is the order of the day, have a look at the Office For Fair Access, which Conservative MPs don't seem to like much, and which this site will return to.  Some activists will never forget the grammar school rumpus.  But don't require Willetts, or anyone else for that matter, to be robotically on-message like some drone-voiced dalek.  The sport of poring though a politician's words, spotting some obscure sub-clause and projecting it out of all proportion has long lost whatever entertainment value it may once have had.  Yvette Cooper says that Willetts is talking "rubbish".  In which case, let her try to write a better book than "The Pinch".

A footenote for those who claim that Willetts is always dropping bricks.  "The Pinch" is 265 pages long and was published during an election run-up.  Yet Fleet Street's finest gaffe-mongers failed to find anything that might be twisted out of context to provoke a row.  There is an irony in Willetts being the on-duty Minister when tuition fees were hiked - a move that, though necessary, will in some respects widen the generation gap of which he wrote.  But he's a usually unrecognised contributor to much of the Party's thinking over the years on social justice and compassionate conservatism.  Time for a David Willetts Preservation Society.


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.