Back in October, the Prime Minister gave one of the speeches of his life at Conservative Party Conference.
One of the most moving sections was about equality. He started by talking about social mobility, something previous Conservative leaders would have been comfortable talking about:
“There’s another big social problem we need to fix - in politicians’ speak: a ‘lack of social mobility’; in normal language: people unable to rise from the bottom to the top, or even from the middle to the top, because of their background.
“Listen to this: Britain has the lowest social mobility in the developed world. Here, the salary you earn is more linked to what your father got paid than in any other major country … We cannot accept that.
“We know that education is the springboard to opportunity...”
He went on to describe what the Government is doing to raise standards in our schools. After that, however, he said something I’ve not heard a Conservative leader say before:
“Let’s be honest: for too many people, even a good education isn’t enough. There are other barriers that stand in their way.
“Picture this. You’ve graduated with a good degree, you send out your CV far and wide but you get rejection after rejection. What’s wrong? It’s not the qualifications or the previous experience. It’s just two words at the top: first name, surname.
“Do you know that in our country today, even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names? This is a true story. One young black girl had to change her name to Elizabeth before she got any calls to interviews.
“That, in 21st century Britain, is disgraceful. We can talk all we want about opportunity, but it’s meaningless unless people are really judged equally … Opportunity ... doesn’t mean much to a disabled person prevented from doing what they’re good at because of who they are. I’m a dad of two daughters. Opportunity won’t mean anything to them if they grow up in a country where they get paid less because of their gender rather than how good they are at their work.
“The point is this: you can’t have true opportunity without real equality. And I want our party to get this right ... I want us to end discrimination and finish the fight for real equality in our country today.”
I blogged at the time that words are cheap; you should judge him (and me) on what we do, not what we say. Well, I'm pleased to report that he's been busy pursuing this agenda as you can read here. Among other things, the Government has:
- appointed Labour MP David Lammy to lead a review of the overrepresentation of black and minority ethnic communities in the criminal justice system;
- persuaded universities to introduce name-blind applications; and
- will legislate to place a new duty on universities to publish data about who applies to them and who gets offered a place.
Croydon Central is one of the most diverse parts of the country. Many of the people I represent are migrants themselves or their children or grandchildren. They're not privileged, they don't have friends in high places but they do have talent. It's really important - not just for them, but for the country as a whole - that they can realise that talent, not be held back by other people's prejudice.
As the Prime Minister says, we have a claim to be the most successful multiracial, multifaith democracy on Earth. In Britain, the children and grandchildren of migrants sit at the Cabinet table, run world-beating companies and win Oscars, Turner prizes and Olympic golds. But our relative success isn’t enough so long as there are young people who don’t feel like there’s a fair chance for them.