Ivan Massow is a financial services entrepreneur and a former Chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Arts.
Running for the Conservative nomination for Mayor taught me so much about London as a city and as a capital. I’ve met everyone from charities, to think tanks, to pressure groups, to TfL operators – all with nothing but the best intentions for our city. Unfortunately, I also learned how unfair it is.
One of the main reasons I chose to run for the Conservative nomination was because of my own background. I wanted to make sure that the path I set myself on was also available to others without the advantages of a private education, glitzy qualifications or family connections with the higher ups. We all know that politics, as well as many other white collar professions, is dominated by those from a certain social sphere. The goal of my campaign was, and still is, making the necessary changes to address social mobility.
Unfortunately, as enlightening as my journey was, it also revealed some uncomfortable truths. The foremost being the state of social mobility in London. To put it in perspective: the seven per cent of working age adults who went to private schools now dominate over 60 per cent of the best positions from acting though to politics. A modern Conservative Party should have a vision that enables anyone from any background to make it and be given the tools by their city to connect with opportunity. I reminded the selection panel that this was a core Thatcher principal.
As James Kirkup argued in the Telegraph last week, “the Conservatives must become the party of social mobility.” I can’t help but feel that the party has lost its way since the times of Thatcher and Major: the daughter of a greengrocer and a boy from Brixton, respectively. The Conservative Party, the party of hard work and endeavour, should always be committed to supporting ambition wherever it is found.
Clearly, the chance for a working class kid to reach a high-paying, prestigious job is unacceptably low. The recent Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission report has highlighted this: less able, middle class kids are 35 per cent more likely than their talented, working class peers to reach the top paying professions.
Although the recent move to the centre ground is potentially a political goldmine, some of the policies put in place do, in fact, hamper the progress of social mobility. For example, the conversion of maintenance grants to loans for university students – whilst beneficial for the Treasury – will undoubtedly put some working class families off the idea of higher education. Although they would have the same level of debt and the same threshold to pay this back as their more affluent counterparts, the fact is many students need significant financial help from their parents during their studies; the lack of this safety net is where poorer kids are left behind.
Although it was set up with the right intentions, the struggling Work Programme is another cause for concern. Some accounts put the success rate of this programme, where the long term unemployed manage to hold down work for six months or more, at less than 10 per cent. I’d much rather we cut out the middleman, and subsidise those employers who choose to tackle this issue. Over the course of my campaign, I met with the Pret Foundation several times. They run their own self-funded apprenticeship scheme for the homeless and those with a criminal record – and they have a success rate of over two-thirds!
Many employers now say it’s great that job applicants know their subject matters, but that state school kids lack the ‘soft skills’ of their privately educated peers; these are the skills that really make the difference in reaching the top professions. Schools, perhaps working with socially responsible businesses, could place more emphasis on interview techniques, personal communication, presentation and self-confidence, to really help state school kids get on. Many school leavers and graduates don’t have the necessary computer skills for the corporate world; this lack of ‘basic’ skills can be a real detriment to their careers prospects.
I’ve talked before about what I would have done as Mayor to kick-start social mobility in London, including a Hotel Tax, a Londoners Lottery and potentially using unclaimed Oyster money from TfL to fund good causes. I will still promote these causes and a wider debate on employment opportunities with my new platform, Equal.London. There’s no lack of support for the improvement of social mobility; I believe this platform that covers all of London has some potential to create real change outside of the purview of City Hall.
This isn’t about ‘smashing a glass floor’ or punishing talented graduates from wealthy backgrounds, but making sure that those without their means, have equal opportunity to succeed. What is done with these opportunities is entirely up to them, but it is the duty of the Conservative Party to promote ambition wherever it exists.