Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Upwardly mobile tadpoles

All the parties, and even the egalitarian Polly Toynbee, are currently obsessed by the concept of social mobility: that everyone, regardless of their background, should have the ability to rise. This is essential a Tory concept as it accepts as an ideal a hierarchical society. Liberal Democrats should have no part in it.

In the context of social mobility equality of opportunity means equal opportunity to become unequal. Surely for Liberal Democrats the ideal is for everyone to have an equal opportunity to develop their full potential, be it barrister or bricklayer, plasterer or politician, businessman or blacksmith (or both, as with Christopher in The Archers), or even just a successful parent with 2.4 children in a decent council house near a competent school and a bus stop with a reliable service

No one puts this better than R H Tawny in his celebrated Halley Stewart lectures on Equality, given in 1929

It is possible that intelligent tadpoles reconcile themselves to the inconvenience of their position, by reflecting that, though most of them will live and die as tadpoles, and nothing more, the more fortunate of the species will one day shed their tales, distend their mouths and stomachs, hop nimbly on to dry land, and croak addresses to their former friends on the virtues by means of which tadpoles of character and capacity can rise to be frogs.

Page 142, Allen and Unwin edition

Rather than upward mobility, Liberal Democrats should be looking to build a society in which: "The aristocrat who banks with Coutts, The Aristocrat who cleans the boots...They all shall equal be." I know it didn't quite work out in Barataria, but Liberal Democrats are nothing if not optimistic, as our Birmingham conference demonstrated.


  1. I would like to contend that the two things are not mutually exclusive (social mobility and equality) but right now I'm far too tired to formulate that into a coherent argument.

    Nonetheless, that is what I believe.

  2. Thanks for your comment, hypnoticmonkey: good to make contact with another "passionate Lib Dem." It is probably inevitable that some occupations will be more highly regarded than others, with barristers and brain surgeons being higher up a pecking order than dustmen and plasterers' labourers. But we shouldn't encourage it by talk about youngsters "getting on" ( as a Labour politician did on the Radio 4's "Any Questions" yesterday). That caries the implication that there's a social ladder to climb. I think it is unhealthy to judge people by what they do and how much money they earn, rather than who they are.

    I'd like to aim at a society in which social mobility is horizontal rather than vertical: everyone having an equal opportunity to reach their potential in whatever sphere they feel comfortable.

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