The Labour Party conference has got off to a very promising start, with The Spectator being complimented from the stage and applauded in the hall. ‘Here’s a publication you don’t hear praised that often at a Labour Conference: the Spectator,’ started Gloria De Piero, its equalities spokeswoman. But she did not, alas, go to quote our editorial ‘The false promise of “equality.“’ She was instead praising our working with the Social Mobility Foundation for summer internships – something that a lot of publications do, including the New Statesman. Her speech is above.
It’s good to see both left and right agreed in the need to address declining social mobility in Britain. The penetration of the privately-educated at the top of all strands of British society is something that should disturb even people like me, who had the advantage of a private education. Here are some figures that Gloria quoted in her speech:-
Of course, left and right have different ideas about how to combat social mobility – which is reflected in the different approaches which The Spectator and the Statesman take to internships. The Staggers offers special fellowships to ethnic minorities – taking positive discriminatory steps. We instead operate education-blind internships where applicants are tested on aptitude – mindful that Frank Johnson, one of the greatest editors of this magazine, had no education after the age of 16. The Statesman says they tried this but…
But there’s a problem: we often find that the resulting shortlist is dominated by the privately educated and Oxbridge-polished
But if you mark them down for having an Oxbridge degree then what about the kid from the council house who took a Brasenose first against all the odds? Or the Aberdeen fishmonger who went without holidays to put his brilliant adopted son through private school?
But both the Spectator and the Statesman agree on the SMF. It selects super-bright, super-keen students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The kind of kids who recognise work experience for what it is: a golden chance to see inside the world of work, buttress their CV and make some contacts. We’ve started to invite our SMF graduates back once a year, urging them to use Spectator staff as their contacts network – in the same way that their rivals from private schools will be using their old school network. Our inaugural get-together is pictured below:-
But (sorry, Gloria) this is not an act of charity on our part. Working with the SMF has introduced us to keen pupils who are, quite simply, a joy to have around the office. The mixture of flair, ability and work ethic is the formula that every employer seeks. We have (so far) hired two people through the SMF.
Anyway, I’d urge employers to get in touch with the SMF and take on a student or two. Lots of people are angry about the social mobility problem, but if you’re an employer or in a position of influence in a company there is something you can do. And who knows – you might even be mentioned in a Labour Party speech next year.