There seems to be a trend, today. Very domestic-British, but again, interesting.
But 40 years on I hear only the desultory crunch of broken dreams and shattered ideals. Far from building on Sixties idealism, we seem to have regressed to the social inflexibility of the Victorian era. Our motto today seems to be “once a chav, always a chav”. Just look around. We have an apartheid health system, with vast disparities between the speed and sophistication of the medical attention that the well-off can buy and the tardy treatment patchily handed out to the poor. Our cities have become segregated into middle-class suburbs and desolate inner-city estates. Not since Hogarth’s time has London seen such a contrast between private wealth and public squalor.
And worst of all, the gap in quality between state and private schools now seems (with a few exceptions) wider than ever. The most recent evidence of that is last week’s revelation that the most able state-school pupils are only half as likely as their private-school peers to achieve top A-level grades. Even that statistic, however, disguises the true extent of the chasm, since huge numbers of state-school children drop out of education long before A-levels. On top of that, consider the less quantifiable disadvantages of British state education in 2005: the woeful lack of playing fields; the patchy provision of art, music and drama facilities; the low-grade but cumulatively catastrophic disruption in many classrooms; the condescending simplification of the curriculum. What it means, I believe, is that for a bright kid from a sink estate to make it to a good university, and thence to a stimulating job, is far more difficult now than it was in the Sixties. We’ve gone backwards.
It’s bizarre that eight years of Labour government have accelerated this trend, not reversed it. It’s even odder that many Tories, far from seeking to exploit Labour’s dereliction of egalitarian duty, think that their best hope of winning power is to elect a leader who is the epitome of privilege. What’s happened to social conscience in that self-regarding hall of mirrors, the “Westminster village”? Will nobody speak for that once cherished ideal — equality of opportunity? Or has that gone the way of kipper ties, flower power and the late, great George Best?