Congratulations to all of those who organised our brilliant Olympic Games; to the 70,000 cheerful volunteers, to all the competing athletes and the millions of supporters. All of these evidenced what I have always believed, that the great majority of the British public are down to earth patriot citizens. Unlike the educational establishment which has severely damaged sporting activity in state schools because they believe competition is a bad thing, we have all witnessed millions of Britons relishing in a friendly and constructive way the challenge of competition. Moreover, our hearts have gone out to all the athletes who have aspired to the Olympic Games and to winning a Gold Medal and especially to Mo Farah, Stephen Kiprotich and others for whom getting the right training involved personal sacrifice.
The point here is that for most people, aspiration is important. When I was a boy the Conservatives were recognised as the political Party of aspiration. They stood behind parents doing the best for their children, people getting skilled up to progress in their careers, bright children from all walks of life having the chance of a top education at the grammar schools, people being able to own their own houses and able to make the best of their talents. Like her or not, Margaret Thatcher was similarly recognised as a leader on the side of those with aspiration: at a practical level enabling people to buy their Council houses was probably the biggest contributor to her General Election successes.
Since we have moved into the 21st Century, the Conservative Party has manifestly lost this USP and in part for justifiable reasons. It has continued far too much of Labour’s “levelling” policies. It has burdened too many ordinary people with excessive taxation to support what is a continuing bloated public sector. In too many little ways it has shown itself not to be on the side of aspiration. I believe this is the main reason behind its manifest lack of political success in terms of winning elections.
We have two good initiatives on the side of aspiration – Michael Gove’s independent schools and the much-enlarged apprenticeship schemes. It will be important for the Conservatives to make sure that a success is made of these. I suggest, however, that we need to have more visible evidence that we are still the Party of aspiration. Since the assisted places scheme was abolished by Labour, I believe there has been an unhealthy division between those children whose parents can and cannot afford to send them to our excellent independent schools. By contrast, when I was a pupil at a leading direct grant school my friends and colleagues came from a wide span of different social backgrounds. I would like to see full scholarships available to all our independent schools for bright children whose parents could not afford to pay the fees. I believe it would be healthy for the children from affluent backgrounds to mix with children from different backgrounds and vice versa. It would also likely see the scholarship children doing brilliantly well in their examination results. For example, Manchester Grammar School and the King Edward Schools in Birmingham should be available to bright, local children from all backgrounds – this is why they were founded. Politically, such an initiative would again demonstrate that the Conservative Party is on the side of aspiration.
There are other measures, macro and micro, which we need to consider, but perhaps, above all, is the principle that citizens spend their money better than the state, if we want to get this economy going.