in which I admit I am baffled

Some time in our recent past – perhaps a quarter to half- a century ago – a group of young men suddenly found themselves elevated to positions if not of power, then at least influence and with great access to self enrichment.  As they looked at themselves and each other, they fell to wondering how it could have happened.

Clearly, because they had succeeded, they really must be blessed with skills and full of aspiration. They looked at the things they had in common: comfortably well-off, upper-middle class families; public schools; degrees from the most revered universities; the consequential social networks; the jobs they had been given:  and drew their conclusions.

They gathered in clubs and political parties and refined their thoughts into a grand project.

Firstly, because they had all fallen into wonderful jobs without having to do anything, they decided that it was not government’s job to create jobs. Government could only get in the way if it tried that, by creating jobs which weren’t real jobs (like theirs) and thus stifled aspiration. Those bad jobs would squeeze out good jobs (like theirs).

Secondly, they decided that children were just being born and brought up in the wrong families. It was necessary to rescue children from their parents as early as possible, by forcing those parents out to look for work. If that wasn’t done, those children might have no aspiration and might even wish to work in places which made things.

Thirdly those children weren’t all going to public school or Oxbridge: their skills and aspirations were being limited by going to comprehensive schools. So it would be necessary to rescue them by closing down all state schools except for a few, which could be remodelled to look like public schools.

Fourthly, they agreed that the age-old problem with the English (well, the rest of them – and foreigners were another matter) was that they were and always had been inveterately lazy. They had such lowly aspirations that a secure job, reasonable pay, a nice home and a family were enough to make them want to do no more. The only way to make them work harder or longer was to scare them into it: make them fear for their job every day, load them with debt so they feared for their home and their family. Under no circumstances were they to be paid too much; only paying them too little would be enough.

Then, fifthly, there was that sense of entitlement to university education, if you were clever enough and of a mind to take it. The problem here was that they came out of university with expectations to access the sort of jobs these young men had been given, even though they clearly weren’t the right sort of people. There was an answer, and that age-old one. Debt. Load them up with it until they couldn’t look upwards.

Yet somehow, even after years of this plan, nothing seemed to be working. The same type of young men with the same families and education and social networks kept ending up in the same jobs.  The rest kept going to school and university, and then ending up unemployed or stacking shelves in supermarkets. They seemed to be getting poorer, not richer. Somehow a way had to be found to make them go out and get more skills, and more education, and more aspiration: because they just didn’t seem to be getting these good jobs in the City, or the BBC, or Policy Exchange, or the Treasury, or as Prime Minister or Chancellor, or Secretary of State for Education or for Health.

There is no alternative. Clearly, the young men’s plan can’t be wrong because they can’t be wrong. The problem is everyone else.  With increasing frustration, the young men look around for anything else that dulls aspiration and must be withdrawn: universal access to healthcare ( if you don’t have to pay for it, you don’t work to pay for it), support for those with disabilities, bedrooms, food banks…

Why is anyone letting them get away with this? I am baffled.

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