One of David Cameron’s most senior ministers has called on her party to deal with declining social mobility and appoint more top politicians who have done low-paid jobs like working in Morrisons.
Justine Greening, the international development secretary, suggested the UK was becoming a country where people found it increasingly difficult to improve their lives. The Conservative party needs to do more to address the problem if it is to win the next election, she said.
The daughter of a steel worker said she knew what it felt like to “be slightly locked out of the system”, and called for the promotion of more people “who know what it’s like to start at the bottom”.
Greening’s intervention comes at a difficult time for the Tories as the prime minister deals with deep tensions between the right and left of his party. Since coming to power, Cameron has been dogged by persistent criticism that Downing Street is dominated by too many Old Etonians and not enough people who do not come from a privileged background.
Her remarks to the Spectator magazine follow similar comments from senior party members. Last year, Sir John Major criticised the “truly shocking” dominance of the private-school-educated elite in the upper echelons of British public life, while Michael Gove, the chief whip, attacked the “preposterous” number of Etonians in the prime minister’s inner circle. Former foreign office minister Lady Warsi caused a controversy after she held up a spoof newspaper headline on television suggesting Downing Street needed to contain less “Eton mess”.
Greening, who was not promoted during the summer reshuffle, suggested theConservatives needed to push the issue of social mobility. “Unless we are winning this battle to open up opportunities for young people, the doors have a tendency to gradually close back,” she said. “This is an agenda that the Conservative party should absolutely own … We should be the people that are pushing forward on it.
“The reason I’m Conservative is because I think that is fundamental to what this party has always been about. Margaret Thatcher’s message to me was it doesn’t matter where you come from, this is a country where the effort you put in will mean you can get the reward out of it. She was creating a country that was smoothing my path. I could decide how far I got.
“Even though I didn’t have a whole load of people around me who had already gone to university, it gave me that encouragement to get on. So what has happened? Over the years that message has been diluted. My biggest concern is that we are ending up with a country where you have not one ladder to climb up but people are on different ladders. You might start at the bottom of a short ladder that will only get you so high. What we need to recreate is one ladder that everyone can climb up.”