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Thursday, 15 January 2009

Destroying local institutions destroys aspiration

Two stories are running in the papers that are not unrelated.

Firstly, Harman's lunatic proposals to legislate for social mobility. After having thrown billions of tax money at ever more desperate social engineering experiments, Labour still can't admit that you can't achieve social mobility through State diktat. The State can't light in the breasts of the least advantaged the flame of aspiration, and without aspiration nothing will shift them.

Secondly, the findings that local councillors are becoming even older and even whiter, with an average age of 59 and many still serving in their 70s and 80s. As we face local elections in 2009 and 2010, many local parties have become so depleted that they won't even find candidates to stand.

Over the last thirty years, local councils like so many other local institutions have become powerless and have been undermined by a central State determined to impose central bureaucratic control over the minutae of our lives. It's government that determines exactly how many pieces of litter can accumulate in each 100m stretch of our roads. Government that dictates how each hour of each teaching day in each school should be used. Government that sets every petty standard in a poisonous crusade to eliminate all intermediate institutions between atomised individuals and the central State.

Those that still serve as councillors often do so from a sense of duty rather than harbouring any illusion that they can make much of a difference to anything. Small wonder hardly anyone under forty, or women, or minorities feel disposed to waste their time in this way.

The stagnation of social mobility and the baneful decline in the status of intermediate institutions are related. Local institutions offered stepping stones within reach. Social mobility doesn't come from people taking huge leaps but small steps; local networking, local party membership, the real authority of the local church and local professionals, the recognised status of one's MP. When the vicar, the doctor, the solicitor, the local councillor and the bank manager, grounded in their area, familiar with its people and committed to their interests, were figures of local authority they stood on a step of a many-stepped pyramid. They were part of a network of horizontal social ties. Within these local networks, the flame of aspiration could burn. Want to own a car like the local solicitor's? Pass your eleven-plus.

Now that these horizontal ties have been displaced by an impenetrable tangle of vertical threads running from each individual to a distant and malign central State, the pyramid has no steps. Its sides are as smooth as glass. Society stagnates. The parties are dying for want of members. Councils are atrophied. Democracy is corroded.

Unless we start to reverse this ruthless central Statism of the last thirty years we risk losing something infinitely precious.


johnse18 said...

We could always improve social mobility by creating more grammar schools.

I'm sure Harridan Harperson would support that because she chose to send her own offspring to a highly selective grammar school in leafy middle class Orpington.

Obviously the schools in her home area of Packham were a little too vibrant, multicultural and relevant to da kids on da street for the Dromey sprog.

Anonymous said...

Got to agree with you Mr. R.

I've been approached more once than by people trying to get me to stand for parish councils and the like.

My response is to ask to which of the things that local people care about, can this council actually make a difference?

The true answer to that is "none - it's all dictated centrally."

So why would anyone bother?

patently said...

Very true.

Anonymous said...

Still a crime to be over 70 and white then.
Makes sense -- we can remember and witness how things were.

DBC Reed said...

Aspiration is a tricky concept,but if anybody has done social engineering to screw up the aspirational element of the class system it is the Conservative Party.It has done everything in its power to make everybody homeowners and to make itself the homeowners party,so by your analysis, the ambitious young person is not going to bother to acquire professional qualifications in order to buy his own house ( the big social class divider in the UK) but can rely on the homeowners parties (including New Labour)to make things as easy as possible without the long-term security of tenured professional employment.This is very democratic and admirable in some ways,but it has also totally undermined the capitalist system with sub-prime loans being fed into banks' reserves.