Although this article does have a slight pre-Corbyn feel, Owen Jones writes:
British society hands out golden tickets to the privileged.
These tickets secure the lucky few, born into certain select families, disproportionate power and influence for the rest of their lives.
Growing up in a comfortable home with space to study; always having a satisfied stomach; being exposed to a wide range of books and a broad vocabulary from an early age; all these factors help guarantee academic success.
A private education can inject extra confidence; family connections and contacts can open the door to desirable professions.
Expensive postgraduate qualifications – increasingly necessary for certain careers – can be paid for by parents with the disposable income to do so.
Working for free in unpaid internships – another ever more crucial passport into elite jobs – is a financial non-starter for many, but not for those whose parents have healthy bank balances.
The housing crisis can be bypassed with a generous bank transfer from Mum and Dad, either helping with the rent or putting down the deposit.
No wonder, then, that British elites are so utterly unrepresentative of the wider population.
Private schools educate only 7% of Britons.
And yet, according to research by the Sutton Trust this year, private school alumni make up nearly three quarters of the top judiciary, over two-thirds of Oscar winners, six out of 10 top doctors, over half of the top journalists, and almost a third of MPs.
Unless you really believe “the most talented” and “the most privileged” are synonymous, this is manifestly unjust.
Only a programme of social transformation can address such inequality – from tackling the housing crisis to increasing investment in early-years education to a war on poverty.
This government, on the other hand, has opted for tinkering.
The Tory Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer (himself the privately educated son of a Tory cabinet minister) proposes to ask all civil service applicants 12 questions.
Their purpose: to assess where they stand in the social pecking order.
The questions are certainly eclectic, ranging from whether they spent time in care or previously held refugee or asylum status, to what school they went to, whether they were eligible for free school meals, and what their postcode was at the age of 14.
And then the question guaranteed to cause squirming – how the applicant would assess their own socio-economic background.
Such efforts are not worthless: they may provide a small boost to efforts to make elite professions more diverse, and at least foster debate about our class-ridden – indeed, class-defined – society.
Sure, the shift from a working class of mines, steelworks and factories to one of supermarkets, call centres and offices confused things, but merely discussing class is often regarded as subversive: after all, it not only makes us confront the issue of who has wealth and power, it also encourages us to ask why.
And then there’s the insecurity of the elite.
Everyone likes to believe their success is down to their own talent, hard work and determination.
Questioning class privilege in elite circles can be construed as a personal attack: “You’re saying I’m only here because I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth!”
(Cards on the table: I do not believe I would be writing for this paper if, like people I grew up with, I spent my childhood on a Stockport council estate.)
Discussions about class suffer from a lack of precision.
For example, the educational attainment of working-class white pupils is often discussed, but the statistics actually relate to “white pupils who are eligible for free school meals”.
Only around 14% of pupils claim them, so “working class” simply becomes synonymous with the poorest families in society.
But the working class has always included a broad variety of experiences: homeowners and social housing tenants, full-time and part-time, women and men, British-born and migrant, black and white, public and private sector, urban and rural, English and Scottish, and so on.
Such differences often become divisions that are ruthlessly and effectively exploited, turning neighbour against neighbour, rather than directing anger at the powerful.
The left desperately needs to refocus on class.
From the 1980s onwards – as the Labour movement was crushed, old industries smashed and the cold war ended – class took the back seat.
Gender, race and sexuality seemed more salient and relevant.
In truth, it should never have been either/or: how can you understand gender without class and vice versa given, say, the disproportionate concentration of women in low-paid and insecure work?
But this era left many working-class people feeling that not only did the left no longer care about them – worse, that these issues had become sticks to beat them with.
Many felt insulted and written off as a bigoted, backward, knuckle-dragging mob, only happy when launching an expletive-ridden diatribe about a minority.
The abandonment of class since the 90s has had profound consequences for this country.
As in the United States, the populist right saw a vacuum and they occupied it: they adopted the language of class, spoke of how the metropolitan liberal set had nothing but contempt for working-class Britain, and championed working-class interests – not against bosses and bankers, but rather immigrants and benefit cheats.
And lo, a working-class revolt finally came, and it was Brexit.
Let’s not generalise: millions of working-class people did vote to remain, particularly those from ethnic minorities or who were younger.
But while a large majority of middle-class professionals voted for the EU, a decisive majority of working-class people opted to leave.
Ukip chipped into a Labour working-class base that felt maligned and demonised.
While Labour descends into a mire of introversion and internecine conflict, Theresa May is cleverly raiding the old language of the left.
Her government will only further entrench the concentration of wealth and power in very few hands.
But with so much of working-class Britain feeling culturally alienated from the left, that hardly matters.
A new rightwing majority could be forged by a swath of working-class Britain who feel the left inhabits a parallel universe.
It’s time for the left to return to class – or an eternity of Tory governments beckons.
I realise that this will set off the grammar schools nervous tic of those who suffer from that sad and sorry affliction. But absolutely nothing that Owen describes here would be affected in the least by grammar schools, as even Peter Hitchens readily concedes. Such institutions would not, do not and cannot affect how their current pupils are housed, or fed, or what have you. Those are the things that matter.