Socially Immobile With the Milburn Blues Again

July 21, 2009

Wow. How flippant and deceitful can a politician be?

Alan Milburn, ex-Health Minister and now “advisor” to both Bridgepoint Capital, which seeks to invest in private healthcare, and PepsiCo, which doesn’t care much about health, has reported on social mobility of all things.

As his report admits, and the BBC reports, “top professions…are becoming closed off to all but the most affluent families.” That report, which somes from a cross-party panel on social mobility, comes with the anodyne title “Fair Access to the Professions”  but its contents are incendiary.

“The report warns that people entering careers such as medicine, law and journalism are increasingly likely to be from more affluent families” while “informal recruitment systems, such as internships and work placement, [are] becoming a back-door for better-off, better-connected youngsters” and “many middle-income families are also missing out in an increasingly polarised jobs market.”

It’s basically a thorough-going indictment of New Labour policy. You’d think that Milburn, an ultra-Blairite who has been complicit in what have turned out to be deeply elitist policies, would show contritition. Far from it.

In the way that only a man groomed in the echo chamber of Blairite self-confidence and political autism can, he told the BBC that “We have raised the glass ceiling but I don’t think we have broken through it yet.”

Right. With more and more jobs accruing to a neo-artistocracy and “middle income” Britons falling behind, let alone the poor, he resorts to faux-congratulatory rhetoric. Yet the “achievements” of New Labour in tackling social mobility are utterly non-existent.

Milburn also thought that he could joke his way around the conclusions of his commitee’s report, adding that “It’s not that Britain doesn’t have talent, to coin a phrase – Britain has lots of talent.” Yes, but not in the halls of Westminster or the board room of Bridgepoint Capital.

In reality, New Labour (and the Tories before them) have devastated the life chances of Britons. As an LSE study released in June found, “social mobility in Britain – the way in which someone’s adult outcomes are related to their circumstances as a child – is lower than in Canada, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland.” Britain came lowest in the study, narrowly below the U.S.A.

Milburn has lauded the post-war Labour government for its “towering achievements” which include “full employment, universal education and a new welfare state” and “helped millions of people, me included, to realise the new opportunities brought by social and economic change.”

This is all well and good. But coming from a key member of the New Labour cabal, which set about dismantling every single element of the post-war Labour project, it is brutally farcical.

The Blair government ardently pursued PFI initiatives that saw hospitals and schools outsourced to the private sector, pushed ahead with “marketisation” of NHS services, tightened the benefits system while allowing billions and billions of pounds to disappear into tax havens, liberalized the financial sector, let industry seep away while subsribing wholeheartedly to a neoliberal international consensus on globalization, promoted some schools as “academies” with heavy corporate or religious influence while allowing others to wither, let private schools coast along as charities, privatised public utilities and refused to renationalize failing ventures like the railways.

Notoriously, Blair failed to abolish the hereditary principle in the House of Lords, and failed to open up the electoral system via reforming the way that Britain votes, while public investment in job creation (outside of the prosperous arms industry) has been derisory.

And Milburn lauds the post-war project which did indeed deliver a wave of social mobility. Incredible stuff.

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2 Responses to “Socially Immobile With the Milburn Blues Again”


  1. […] central theme of Alan Milburn et al’s report on social mobility (which I’m focusing on a bit today, as it has wide ranging implications for British […]

  2. atreseeb.com Says:

    The flex waistband demands a load of buyers.


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