A mixed education system is the best way to speed up Britain’s lagging social mobility

Andrew Thorpe-Apps

Sir John Major recently spoke out against our country’s “truly shocking” lack of social mobility and the consequent dominance, in politics and other fields, of a narrow section of society.

The term ‘social mobility’ is an unfortunate one, couched as it is in class terms. In reality, it is economic mobility and the ability to progress in one’s career that most concern us in 21st century Britain.

A great deal of attention was given to Sir John’s intervention, not least because many viewed it as an attack on David Cameron and the ‘Notting Hill Set’. Some on the Left have even praised the former Tory Prime Minister as a kind of class warrior. For those on the right of the Conservative Party, branding him as a class antagonist provides a convenient way of concealing Britain’s social mobility problem. Whilst Sir John’s beginnings were indeed humble, it is wrong to think he is calling for some idealist notion of equality.

Absolute social and economic equality are achievable only under authoritarian leadership. The reason for this is simple: equality is not a natural state of affairs; it must be artificially constructed through the workings of the state. Further, under such a system, there could be no social mobility as any individual disparity would represent a threat to state control. Whilst greater economic equality is a laudable aim, it should not be conflated with the means by which to achieve it.

Due to this preoccupation with egalitarianism, the Left are inherently opposed to social mobility. Labour’s attempt to close Britain’s grammar schools was a clear example of this. On the other hand, the Conservatives are the natural party of individual economic and social improvement, chartered under the banner of ‘equality of opportunity’. Yet a truly meritocratic society cannot be achieved when people’s life chances are largely determined at birth.

The issue is not that the majority of the Cabinet were privately educated; it is that individuals from less privileged backgrounds did not have an opportunity to even stand for election.

Sir John is right to raise the issue of ‘intergenerational mobility’, as economists like to call it. It is one of the greatest challenges facing this country’s politicians. Britain is one of the most unequal societies in the world, with statistics consistently showing it to be less socially mobile than other developed nations. A 2005 LSE study found that, whilst the gap in opportunities between rich and poor is similar in Britain and the US, in the US it is at least static, while in Britain it is getting wider.

Furthermore, social mobility is not a purely moral imperative. Britain is suffering an economic loss by not ensuring that the best and brightest are rising to the top. How many potential inventors and entrepreneurs have been lost simply because they did not have the financial means or social networks to flourish?    

Although family, social networks and attitudes will always play a role in determining an individual’s success, there are measures which governments can undertake to ensure that individual ability becomes more of a driving factor.

The greatest reason why Britain’s social mobility is in decline is because the better off have benefitted disproportionately from increased educational opportunity. Whilst the proportion of people from the poorest fifth of the population obtaining a degree has increased from 6 per cent to 9 per cent since the early 1980s, the graduation rates for the richest fifth have risen from 20 per cent to 47 per cent.

Education is the key to social mobility, and grammar schools are a beacon beside the lumbering behemoth that is comprehensive education. Michael Gove has made progress in shaking up the education system. Yet Gove runs the risk of fragmenting education in a way that could prove counterproductive to social mobility. Free schools, though perfectly laudable, are generally set up by middle class parents in the suburbs. 

Gove would do well to look at Germany. Here, secondary education includes five types of school. The school a pupil attends will depend on their academic attainment, but particular focus is also given to the type of vocational training which will best fit each child’s skills. Whilst in Britain there remains a preoccupation with academic success, in Germany it is recognised that academic and vocational education are equally valuable. It is no coincidence that Germany has been enjoying the kind of export-driven economic success that Britain can only dream of. Germany also performs far better in the social mobility stakes. By adapting the education system to account for the varied skills of its children, Germany provides greater opportunity to those from poorer backgrounds.   

A mixed education system, with strong independent and grammar schools, and comprehensive and free schools which channel the talents of their students, will help Britain to reverse its social mobility shame.

Follow Andrew on Twitter.

The education system’s betrayal of bright pupils

Giles Marshall 9.00am

How often is it possible to bemoan the same problem and consistently avoid the obvious solution? Plenty, it would appear, if the problem is how to support bright children in the state education system.

Ofsted have today reported that thousands of bright youngsters are failing to achieve their potential in secondary schools. They have issued some shocking figures. Take English: of the children who achieved Level 5 in English in their primary schools and went on to the standard non-selective secondary school, 62 per cent failed to gain a grade A or A* in the subject at GCSE. Even taking into account the natural decline in learning that some children experience in the secondary school years, that is a lamentable figure.

More than a quarter of previously high attaining pupils failed to gain a grade B or A in Maths or English. The bright, eager primary school pupil with ability to nurture is being betrayed by what Ofsted have described as a “culture of low expectations” in secondary schools.

Of course, it is no easy job to encourage the bright students when you are teaching a class of thirty students whose abilities range right across the spectrum and who contain a fair share of the educationally discontented amongst them. Blaming the schools and their teachers is all very well, but the demands we make by our present system are huge.

The problem of the mixed education system was well identified by a prominent academic in an article in the New York Review of Books in 2010, entitled simply “Meritocrats”.  He furiously denounced what had been happening to secondary education when he wrote:

"For forty years, British education has been subjected to a catastrophic sequence of “reforms” aimed at curbing its elitist inheritance and institutionalizing “equality.”…. Intent upon destroying the selective state schools that afforded my generation a first-rate education at public expense, politicians have foisted upon the state sector a system of enforced downward uniformity."

He was not the first critic. In the Black Papers of 1975, one author argued:

"Selection must and will take place in education and those who banish rational methods of selection are simply favouring irrational and accidental ones.  The children who will be lost forever are the poor clever children with an illiterate background….Why should socialist policy, of all things, be so grossly unjust to the under-privileged clever child, avid to learn, able to learn, and under non-selective education likely to pass in relaxed idle boredom those precious years when strenuous learning is a joy and the whole intellectual and moral future of the human being is at stake?"

These were strong words, and the interesting thing in both cases is that they came from the pens of bona fide left-wing thinkers: Tony Judt and Iris Murdoch respectively.

They correctly identified where the real victims of the comprehensive reform of state secondary education would lie, and while articulate middle class parents push their way into the catchments of the few remaining grammars, everyone else has to put up with the “culture of low expectations”.  

Oddly, for all his reforming zeal, Michael Gove has steered well clear of the grammar school debate. Happy to push for elitism in the form of exams; presumably happy to maintain the elitism required for the university system to thrive (because yes, they select students based on academic ability), he has made no pronouncement whatsoever on grammar schools. Free Schools and academies are hamstrung in one significant way – they cannot select on the basis of academic ability alone.

Perhaps Conservatives - more likely to be able to use the private selective school system, or ensure residence in a catchment area for a state selective school, or able to take advantage of the free school opportunity – don’t really have any motivation to push for a fully selective system on the state. Maybe their opposition to state control of education stands in the way of advocating a directed system of educational elitism to aid the aspirations of the poor and disadvantaged.  

If so, is it entirely outside the bounds of political credibility for the Labour party to rediscover its commitment to social mobility, and advocate the return of a grammar school system? In one bound, they could pull the rug from under the feet of the wimpy Conservatives who have avoided this toxic issue for so long. They could, indeed, listen to Tony Judt’s closing plea not to accept the disastrous status quo:

"Equality of opportunity and equality of outcome are not the same thing. A society divided by wealth and inheritance cannot redress this injustice by camouflaging it in educational institutions—by denying distinctions of ability or by restricting selective opportunity—while favoring a steadily widening income gap in the name of the free market. This is mere cant and hypocrisy."

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesmarshall

The One Nation Tory is alive and well: a response to John Harris

Nik Darlington 2.30pm

The passing of Baroness Thatcher has elicited a great deal of Tory stock-taking and soul-searching, as well as comment upon comment upon comment as to what the legacy is of Britain’s longest-serving Prime Minister of the twentieth century. As John Harris wrote in the Guardian"Thatcher’s death has Britain peering back through time".

In a subsequent article, born from his introspective itinerary around Britain researching Lady Thatcher’s legacy, Harris asks readers to “spare a thought for the late unlamented one-nation Tory”. His argument is that “centrist, socially-concerned Conservatism” had already died long before her, and largely because of her doing.

Let’s be frank. The Tory Reform Group, its members and leading political representatives have not always seen eye to eye with all aspects of Thatcherism. Respected her achievements and they way she led the country in dark times, yes; but there have been policy disagreements along the way.

However, Harris is simply wrong. The ‘One Nation Tory’ might be a minority concern in today’s Conservative party, dominated as it is by people who cut their teeth during Mrs Thatcher’s battling leadership of the party, and the aftermath; but it is alive and well. Harris claims that every year he attends the Conservative party conference "looking for any signs of its revival…but it is nowhere to be seen". Based on attending a ConservativeHome fringe event, that is not surprising. Did he not care to call in to any TRG events, which every year seem to outnumber those of other Tory groups? Even stars of stage and screen turned up to Ken Clarke’s midnight party last year.

It is perhaps fashionable to presume there are no centrist Tories left, which is peculiar considering the efforts of David Cameron to steer the Conservative party in just such a direction - and indeed, it is more plausible to say that the party did not make it fully over the line in 2010 because it had not moved far enough in that direction, than it is to say it moved too far. It is even more peculiar coming from a Guardian writer, when that newspaper has on occasion so wholeheartedly championed Mr Cameron’s stewardship.

Perhaps it is simply thus: no Tory of whatever ilk can be as “centrist” or “socially-concerned” as the GuardianHarris may be a columnist, not an editorial writer, but he does a fine job of blending into his surroundings.

Harris is right that too slavish an adherence to the free market - a common and unfortunate conclusion reached by today’s self-proclaimed Thatcherites - has landed post-Thatcher political parties (including the Labour party) in hot water. As Sir Ian Gilmour said, “the balance will have to be redressed”.

Harris is right that the present plethora of Tory groups, if they coalesce at all, do so around one interpretation of Mrs Thatcher’s policies. Yet this misses the point, which is that the fact a plethora exists suggests how confused even Conservatives remain about her legacy and what to do with it.

Harris wonders “what would happen if the grandees of pre-Thatcher Conservatism were raised from the grave, and confronted with Britain’s current problems”. He need not resort to table-turning, though many have indeed passed away. Just look at Lord Heseltine’s continued role in public life at the ripe old age of eighty. His growth review, which at its heart recommends a more decentralised approach, has largely been accepted by the Government. Meanwhile, Ken Clarke’s experience, not least as a successful Chancellor of the Exchequer, remains indispensable to the Government. Though not necessarily a ‘pre-Thatcher grandee’, Lord Baker is a life member of the TRG and remains an influential figure in education policy.

Ed Miliband, as Harris says, has “tentatively” attempted to expropriate the ‘One Nation’ theme for the Labour party. I spelled out last October why Mr Miliband’s interesting approach falls flat. His post-Blair (and by extension, post-Thatcher) Labour party is in the grip of myriad interest groups fixated by an ideological nihilism. Signs of this are bubbling to the surface even in his own positioning, until now so often non-committal.

Michael Gove recently told a Policy Exchange gathering that in order to interpret her legacy honestly, we have to view Mrs Thatcher as a “historical figure” - much, indeed, with the detachment we deploy to consider Sir Winston Churchill, or William Gladstone, or even Pitt. Most agree that her prescriptions and demeanour were right for her time. Party political Conservatism has moved on; Thatcherism has moved on too. It means different things to its adherents today than perhaps it did even to Mrs Thatcher herself. In the same vein, One Nation Conservatism, so sidelined since the 1990s (and largely to do with a single policy issue: Europe), has moved on.

Our relative anonymity, and the fact John Harris thinks we are dead, might well be a problem. Yet we have in power a largely centrist, modernising Conservative-led government dealing with economic disruption and deeply moral dislocation - not least in education and welfare policy - that the opposition Labour party refuses to confront.

So while the Tory Reform Group does need to do more to get its message heard above the cacophony of Conservative voices (small ‘v’), I respectfully believe Harris’ pessimism is misplaced.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

Press freedom, or press responsibility? It is time we checked the most powerful organisations in Britain

Giles Marshall 9.50am

Eight-six MPs and peers have signed a letter urging David Cameron not to accept any recommendation for statutory oversight of the press, should such be made by Lord Leveson in his much anticipated report.

In many ways it is encouraging that so many legislators, themselves often the target of press attacks, should be so concerned about what they have termed an issue of free speech. They are right in wanting to steer clear of political control of any media outlet. Yet the issue for the British press is no longer really one of free speech; it is one of responsibility.

The Leveson Inquiry’s exhaustive hearings unearthed example after example of astonishing abuse of press power. This wasn’t simply the willingness of some newspapers to use illegal methods to obtain information; it was also their relentless commitment to the harassment and persecution of those who they decided, often on a whim or on the barest of hard knowledge, to victimise.

Famous examples of non-celebrity figures include the McCanns and Chris Jefferies, but they were hardly the first. There have been many more low-profile examples. The stories of Juliet Shaw and an innocent deputy headmistress, both caught up in the Daily Mail’s tangled web of media ethics, serve as a reminder of just what happens when there isn’t a major inquiry into the conduct of the press.

The Sun managed to identify an innocent man as a paedophile and never produced an apology, so weak is the current system of press regulation. There are plentiful, regular examples of how an out of control press - particularly the tabloids - smear people’s reputations with no requirement to apologise or make restitution when they are proved - as they so often are - wrong. The intrusion of the press into private lives continues unabated. The best observation of press antics comes at the moment from heroic blogs such as Tabloid Watch and The Media Blog, which makes depressing reading.

The MPs who signed the letter today rightly consider that the ability of the press to investigate political and commercial interests without fear or favour should be unhindered. Agreed.

The problem is that it so often doesn’t. It isn’t MPs or political interests who require the defence of a proper system of regulatory control. It is the little people, the small people’s interests, who urgently require this support. The very people MPs should be representing and whose interests they should be considering. It is in some ways astonishing that the eighty-six signatories of today’s letter have been so willing to leap to the defence of powerful, vested media interests, but have remained mute when ordinary people have been victims of press abuse.

Then again, many politicians mix freely with owners, editors and reporters. Mr Cameron’s friendship with Rebekah Brooks; Michael Gove’s past employment with Rupert Murdoch’s Times; Boris Johnson’s present employment with the Barclay twins’ Daily Telegraph; Jeremy Hunt’s cringeworthy emails and texts to a senior aide of the Murdoch corporation - all these relationships betoken an unhealthy danse macabre that wholly fails to protect us from a rampaging, lazy, abusive press.

The Guardian has published a poll finding today suggesting that 79 per cent of the public want a powerful regulatory body to control the press. It would be difficult to find an issue on which there is such variance between our representatives and ourselves.

Preventing the press from publishing untrue statements that irreparably damage people’s lives is not the same - nowhere near - as political control and it is a pity that today’s letter’s signatories don’t realise this.

It was Stanley Baldwin many years ago - using a comparison possibly offered to him by his cousin Rudyard Kipling - who noted that the press “have great power without any responsibility. The prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.”

Too much of the British media has failed to show even the slightest hint of willingness to regulate themselves. It is time they were subject to the same strictures as every other organisation in this country, for they wield the greatest power, and power should never be allowed to go unchecked.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesmarshall

An absence of truly Conservative philosophy: a reply to Bruce Anderson

Henry Hopwood-Phillips 3.28pm

Bruce Anderson very articulately states the identity-crisis afflicting the Right in his recent blog for ConservativeHome. He outlines perfectly how, as the not-so-old middle ground caves in, the Conservative party glances nervously over its shoulder for a soul. However, no real solution is outlined.

The major problem is awkwardly avoided. Either the state is a good thing, a vehicle of teleology, or it is something that must be kept to a necessary minimum.

Anderson seems to want have his cake and to eat it. Teleology is poo-pooed. Philosophical inquiry is reduced to Mr Cameron’s “activist” components. The danger of which Orwell outlined when he said we risk…

"[sinking] to [the] depth at which restatement of the obvious [becomes] the first duty of intelligent men."

Yet the minimum state is tarred with the uncaring brush. The easy assumption is peddled that a minimum state would be one in which Beer Street and Gin Lane reproduce themselves.

Anderson’s blog is in fact an honourable retreat into the platitudes of the eighteenth century. ‘Platoons and Patriotism’ is a good bugle call for the tired conservative. Most conservatives I know, however, want Eliot’s LIVING tradition, not the resurrection of Lazarus.

Anderson ignores the fact that were “platoons” to be formed today, they would more likely resemble a multiculti mosaic than a fiefdom of clubs. Patriotism is dying a slow and boring death on the altar of international institutions and global encumbrance. It’s all very well enjoying the baubles it creates but it’s another matter entirely to base a political philosophy on it.

Indeed, as the Right searches for conservative critiques that don’t feel like merely the extensions of the models of European economists such as Hayek and von Mises - or that contain more imagination than Philip Blonde just chucking Left and Right at each other and claiming the resultant mess is a masterpiece - it is forced to look over the Atlantic.

It is telling that the two major conservative intellectuals Britain has produced in recent history, Niall Ferguson and Roger Scruton, live on the other side of the pond. True conservative thought, sensibly reactive to the less enlightened aspects of enlightenment thinking, is to be found in Buckley, Strauss, Pangle and Bloom. Who are our equivalents?

This is why Michael Gove is on to a Good Thing. He is not forcing everybody to go to a private school or attend Blimpish concentration camps; he is encouraging the freedom to choose. Freedom necessitates trust and responsibility. It requires the state to see the electorate as citizens rather than subjects. Indeed, why most Britons like being subjects of the Queen is because they see the Queen as a constitutional emergency valve.

Put simply. If the Left like high taxes, let them pay more. If they like multiculturalism, let them live in multicultural areas. If they like utopia, then let them pursue such ends. If the Right likes low taxes, let them pay less. If they like “leafy” suburbs, let them live in them. Freedom requires devolution. Devolution requires trust. Are the Conservatives the nasty party or does Anderson ultimately think the electorate is nasty itself?

Many teachers are still wary about the need to raise exam standards - they mustn’t be

Nik Darlington 11.03am

Half of teachers in England oppose Michael Gove’s plan to replace GCSEs with a new English Baccalaureate (EBacc), according to polling by YouGov.

Nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) believe that grades should be based on a combination of final exams and coursework, as is currently the case with GCSEs but wouldn’t be under the proposed EBacc.

However, both teachers (77 per cent) and the public (82 per cent) agree with the Government in one respect: having one exam board per subject. I have criticised the current exam boards arrangement in the past, on these pages and elsewhere, as a corrupt and harmful presence in our education system. I have even claimed that the free market is failing the country’s children. So evidently I welcome this support for abolishing the practice of multiple competing exam boards.

There should be some concerns about YouGov’s sample size: at fewer than 700 hundred teachers in England, it is unimpressive. Factor in that this includes primary school teachers, with no direct involvement in GCSEs, and it looks threadbare.

We should also remember that while half (50 per cent) of teachers oppose the changes, that means the other half do not oppose the changes. True, only 22 per cent state they actively support them; but it is hard to form a definite opinion on something until you’ve seen what it is. The EBacc is still an idea, not an exam.

Much of the concern in the teaching profession seems, anecdotally at least, to be based on the likelihood of fewer children passing exams. The real issue here is one of raising standards, not necessarily pass rates. And if a new exam system raises standards to a comparable level with superior systems abroad, at the loss of higher pass rates, in the long-run it is a price worth paying.

I am told by one teacher with many overseas children in their classes that a mere glance at their textbooks demonstrates just how far behind our GCSEs are compared to the exams they would sit in their home country: “their GCSEs are equivalent to our AS levels”.

Significant parts of the teaching profession might be in denial or opposition of Mr Gove’s suggested reforms. And often with good intentions, I don’t doubt. But if we are to do the best for Britain’s children, we cannot continue to cheat them the opportunity of as rigorous an education as their peers overseas. In a globalised economy, this becomes ever more crucial every year.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

The School Sports Debacle - Who Is Really At Fault?

Giles Marshall 9.43am

It’s great that David Cameron has been attending the London Olympics, and even better that he has been sufficiently enthused by the tremendous success of British athletes to call for more competitive sport in schools.

But is Mr Cameron naïve to put the blame for a ‘lack of competitive ethos’ on to teachers?

Or is he simply the latest in a line of Prime Ministers since Margaret Thatcher to pay lip service to the idea of sports in state schools while simultaneously cutting the funding that makes it possible?

The problem, as ever, lies with both government and school leaders. Since the education revolution of the 1980s, government has been immensely successful in focussing attention on academic results. The annual publication of exam league tables has forced schools into an ever more intense cycle of relentless grade chasing.

Good, you might think, for the academic side of education. Not so good, however, for all the other aspects of school life. School leaders have certainly got to grips with the idea that they need to show year-on-year consistent examination success. Sadly too many of them have taken a rather one-paced, narrow perspective, making exams their focus at the expense of other, broader aspects of a decent liberal education. The most significant casualty has probably been school sports, with trips and visits not far behind.

It isn’t directly any government’s fault that too many schools’ senior management teams hide behind a ‘watch my back’ culture of more detailed, time-consuming and off-putting bureaucracy. Too few heads and deputies are willing to support their staff who run after-school sports, or arranging fixtures, putting lengthy forms in the way of keen teachers and taking weeks to pass even the simplest request to run an extra-curricular activity.

One friend - newly qualified and teaching in a state school - commented in despair at the fact that she had to fill in a lengthy risk assessment in order to take her PE class into the park for a class session. The park was opposite the school. Her risk-averse head took two weeks before he decided he could agree with her several page risk assessment, and demanded parental consents and health forms from every parent before the lesson could be conducted. Lesser teachers would have given up long before.

Plenty of heads, too, insist that their sports staff attend tedious after-school inset sessions over running school sports fixtures.  It is little wonder that teachers who might once have been enthusiastic over the idea of running extra-curricular sports give up in the face of the mountains of cowardly, pass the blame bureaucracy put in their paths by senior staff.

I should incidentally declare an interest. I am a rarity among teachers, working as I do for a head who positively encourages extra-curricular activities and ensures a can-do atmosphere in his school, happily taking the ultimate responsibility on himself and giving his staff a high degree of leeway to run things. Why? Quite simply he trusts their professionalism, and he understands that responsible leadership involves supporting rather than hindering them.

But behind this school problem is a government problem, and whatever he says now, Mr Cameron cannot honestly claim to have supported the revitalised sports culture he now wants to see in state schools. His Education Secretary, Michael Gove, cut the funding to the School Sports Partnership (then had to perform a hasty U-turn on it) and devised a Sixth Form funding formula for state schools that removed financing for extra-curricular sports. Only academic A-levels are deemed worthy of government funding in the state sector. As a way of hindering sport in schools, that was pretty good going. And, of course, if you are going to inculcate a blame culture for poor exam results, you can hardly act surprised if your head teachers choose to ignore the poor relation – sports.

The independent sector has a distinguished sporting record because its schools invest considerable sums in their sports provision. They pay for professional coaches, offer generous sports scholarships and possess state of the art facilities.  None of that is available for state schools and sports professionals who can command considerable salaries are not likely to respond to a ‘big society’ call to work free of charge.

If Mr Cameron’s commitment to long-term sports provision for the majority of British students is more than simply the passing enthusiasm of an Olympics fan, then he needs to encourage an ethos of support, accompanied by appropriate funding - first and foremost from the Department for Education.

Otherwise, he might be best advised to avoid the debate altogether.

Giles Marshall is head of politics in a London grammar school. Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesmarshall

Conservatives must convince people it is the disadvantaged in society they care about most

Dan Watkins 11.58am

With our history as a trading nation, Britain has long favoured open markets and economic liberalism. Even in the presently difficult economic times, a majority of voters still believe that capitalism is the best way forward.

But despite the Conservative party being the country’s foremost supporters of capitalism, over the past two decades it has consistently polled in the region of 30 to 40 per cent. So the party’s Achilles heel is not its economics, but its social policy - or at least the public’s perception of it.

Rightly or wrongly, the Conservative party is perceived as the ‘party of the rich’. Lower income groups are discouraged from becoming supporters, fearing the party is not interested in them. Furthermore, many better-off voters seek to allay their social consciences by shunning the Tories. The two diverse groups represent millions of voters but can both be addressed by focusing on the disadvantaged - and if done successfully could push the party above the critical 40 per cent level of support.

In fact, it is only the Conservative party that can truly transform opportunities for the disadvantaged - the people who most rely on the public services that are in urgent need of reform. The Labour party’s strong ties to the unions and the large swathes of leftist supporters within the Liberal Democrat party, prevent either from taking the radical steps needed to improve social mobility.

The Tories are unencumbered by those vested interests and care just as much about helping all members of society as any other politician. But crucially, it is the belief in policies that fit the grain of human nature that give the Tories a genuine chance of success. The use of the ‘carrot and stick’, or positive and negative incentive, is what needs shouting about.

For instance, with welfare we have long offered benefits to people when they fall on hard times. For some recipients the ‘carrot’ works and they soon return to work. But for many others, the money is taken with no serious intent of finding further employment. They will only respond to the ‘stick’ - such as the threat of enforced community work or reduced benefits.

Consider another area - education - where again we are putting sensible incentives into play. We provide positive incentives to children from poorer families by improving their quality of education received via free schools, academies and the pupil premium. Yet those pupils who do not respond, and who cause disruption, will now face newly-liberated heads who possess a greater range of sanctions for pupils and parents. Teachers will also face positive incentives in the form of differential pay, syllabus freedoms and greater powers in the running of schools - but also the threat of dismissal if they consistently fail to perform.

This can be applied to all public sector workers. The Conservatives sorely need to improve their support among this group at a time when necessary public spending cuts threaten to offer them only the ‘stick’, not the ‘carrot’ (such as decentralisation or mutualisation). Examples such as the Civil Service Pension mutualisation should act as blueprints for other state institutions.

Of course, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove have already begun implementing such policies in welfare and education. But we need to spell out to people time and time again how these measures shall directly help families on lower incomes. Likewise for reforms to the NHS, local government and social services. The Government’s programme is not all about deficit reduction in the slightest.

The next three years offer many opportunities to focus relentlessly on the disadvantaged in British society and demonstrate to voters that it is these people the Conservative party cares the most about.