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Coffee House

Michael Gove is right — the Conservatives are the party of social justice

1 April 2014

12:00 PM

1 April 2014

12:00 PM

Yesterday, George Osborne dedicated himself the mission of ‘full employment’. Today, Michael Gove has given a speech declaring that the Conservatives are the ‘party of social justice’. This is not positioning – it’s simply stating the obvious.

Thanks to Gove, the best hope a council estate kid has of dodging the local sink school is for a new school to open nearby. The Gove reforms don’t help the rich – the education system works fine for them. The best state schools are filled with the state pupils from the richest backgrounds. Ed Balls was sent private, as his dad (who used to teach at Eton) had wisely saved money and rightly sought to invest this in his child. The same is true for Tristram Hunt’s parents. They will be proud to see their investment pay off, as their children fully develop their gifts  climb to the top of the political tree. If you have the cash, in Britain, there is no need for school reform. The system works fine for you.

But those who don’t have such money have much to fear from the Ed Balls and Tristram Hunts of this world. Both of them seem determined that the ladder extended to them does not go to children from more modest homes, by stopping new schools from opening (if there are places to fill in bad schools).  To the Tories, education is about the child. To Labour, it’s about the adults: the teaching unions, and the bad schools that fear competition. You don’t need to be a genius to work out which is the party of social justice.

It’s also encouraging to see George Osborne interested in the social justice agenda, having previously been a tad suspicious of mission-driven politicians. But he is richly entitled to use such language: the agenda of tax cuts is nothing less than an emancipation. Only the Tories believe in transferring power to the many, from the few, by the simple means of tax cuts. Power over the money you earn is the greatest power of all. Labour will do anything for the working class – except trust them.

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And those million new jobs? No one can accuse the Chancellor of announcing a fake target. Thanks to his recovery, it is very doable. The below graph shows that the UK economy is expected to easily generate a million more jobs – in fact, the OBR small print envisages 1.2m by 2018.

The OBR expects that there will be 700,000 more people in employment in 2018 than it thought there would be this time last year.

The OBR forecasts that between now and 2018 there will be 1.2 million extra people in employment in Britain.

Theresa May also has strong social justice credentials: her proposed legislation to end Modern Slavery will put Britain at the forefront (yet again) of world attempts to eradicate this mutant strain of an old evil.

Iain Duncan Smith is so committed to this agenda that he set up the Centre for Social Justice (on whose advisory board I’m proud to serve) and his welfare reforms are explicitly aimed at saving lives, not just money. You can look at the above graph, and see how jobs has gone a lot better that the Treasury expected year after year. Why? Because the IDS reforms are reconnecting British jobs with British people,

Conservatism delivers what socialism dangles. Twas always thus. It’s true that Tories have tended to tone down the rhetoric, and leave the left to bang in about the ‘arc of the moral universe’ etc. The left tend to judge policies by their intentions, the right tend to judge them by their results. Ed Miliband’s policies in particular pose a massive threat not just to the recovery, but to the fairness and strength of British society. He proposes a Hollande-style bureaucratic restoration. It’s the last thing we need.

So it’s worth saying, again and again, that the best hope of a socially just and strong Britain is a Conservative majority government at the next election. I hope the Tories keep banging this drum all the way to June 2015.

PS: Gove’s speech extracts:

‘We’re implementing a long term plan for schools – rooted in evidence – driven by moral purpose. We want every child to have a chance to flourish. We inherited an education system which was one of the most stratified and segregated in the developed world. Thousands of children – overwhelmingly from poorer backgrounds – were receiving an inadequate education.

‘That had to change – and that’s why we have been implementing reforms to help all children succeed; targeting support on the most disadvantaged; executing a long term educational plan, rooted in evidence of what works. The most successful schools in this country – and the most successful education jurisdictions in the world – share particular qualities. Greater autonomy for those at the frontline; sharper, more intelligent accountability; and doing everything possible to drive up the standard of teaching.

‘Our plan for schools is focused on each of these objectives. And it’s working. Since May 2010, the number of pupils taught in underperforming secondary schools has fallen by almost a quarter of a million. And we’ve raised the bar on what counts as success – setting a tough new minimum floor standard, which no school should fall below. In 2010, 407 secondary schools would have fallen below the floor. This year, it was just 154.Still 154 too many – but a significant improvement.’

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