Mine is probably David Willetts. I met him a couple of years ago, and may well have passed him a canape, as that was the role I played at the event he spoke at. He is famously brainy, and worked under Nigel Lawson when the latter was Chancellor*. He got in trouble with the Right of his party over grammar schools, questioning their sacred view that these schools are the key to social mobility, in a speech that my better informed education expert friends think is one of the best ever made on education.
the trouble is that the chances of a child from a poor background getting to a grammar school in those parts of the country where they do survive are shockingly low. Just 2% of children at grammar schools are on free school meals when those low income children make up 12% of the school population in their areas . . . If the evidence were different and if grammar schools could still work as they might once have done, transforming the opportunities of many children from poor backgrounds then we would be obliged to look very seriously at the case for their introduction. But the fact is that grammar schools don’t any longer work like that.
Anyway, commenting on the death of Salinger, he has written a good column in the Times that clearly denies some of the views of miserabilists who think the young are, well, bad:
Many other indicators show the generation gap healing. Parents spend more time with their children than they used to. One in ten parents of children aged 16 to 24 say that they have serious arguments with them, but one in five say that they had big rows with their own parents when they were the same age. . . . And young people themselves respect their parents’ values. The conventional wisdom that young people lack aspiration is wrong: most young people have mainstream aspirations. They want a decent job and to settle down and raise a family. Surveys of our most disengaged young people, the Neets (not in education, employment or training), found that they had surprisingly mainstream aspirations — one unemployed young person said that his ambition was to have a utility bill addressed to him personally.
So, they are not bad: they are badly off, for generational reasons that less thoughtful advocates of freemarket thinking would ignore or fail to spot:
This generation gap is even more stark when we look at who owns what. As we slowly accumulate wealth during our lives we might expect the older generation to be richer. But again the gap has widened: it is the generation ahead that sits on all the wealth tied up in their houses and their pensions. It is going to be much harder for the younger generations . . . (of the baby boomers) First, they borrowed to buy their first house, then high inflation in the 1970s and 1980s wiped out their debts. Then they had high wages when they were young. Now, as retirement looms, the arrival of China and India in the world trading system is holding down the wages of their children. And on top of that we are now leaving a heavy burden of public debt around their necks.
A Conservative who recognises that we don’t have a total collapse of respect in this country; who doesn’t think that grammar schools solve all educational issues; who recognises that the distribution of wealth is a problem. How much more difficult would be my voting decision, if Willetts were Shadow Chancellor, rather than the current lot who seem to be getting more and more muddled (see Paul C on LibCon) and is prone to making wrongheaded comparisons with Greece.
*say what you like about Lawson’s views on climate change, but his qualifications to be Chancellor were awesome, and his book on that period is arguably the best account of being a Chancellor, or antagonist to Lady T, that you can read. All 1000 pages of it.