Shuggy takes on David Kynaston's article about private education, arguing that it is inequality itself, rather the public school system, that is the problem. I am currently enjoying Kynaston's magnificent history of post-war Britain, Austerity Britain, 1945-1951, and this made the article even more disappointing. I am less concerned about the educational arguments, which Shuggy deals with admirably, but with Kynaston's line on equality. He writes:
New Labour learned, perhaps over-zealously, the Thatcherite lesson and rejected the goal of equality of outcome ... Instead, the equality that New Labour privileged was equality of opportunity. "New Labour is committed to meritocracy," Blair pledged a year before coming to power. "We believe that people should be able to rise by their talents, not by their birth or the advantages of privilege."
It was and is a marvellous, inspiring aspiration. ...with New Labour's acceptance of the market having as yet met with no plausible challenge from the left, it is hard to think of a better way of allocating life's prizes.
Now, even ignoring the arguments against meritocracy and the left alternatives to New Labour that he glibly dismisses, this passage is still worrying. He starts by, "perhaps", regretting the Blairite approach, before enthusiastically embracing it. In doing so he joins in a standard New Labour refrain about the incompatibility of equality of opportunity with a broader social equality, a theme that Anthony Giddens elaborated on in his execrable book, The Third Way, and something that Shuggy takes issue with.
What I would argue is that these are not mutually incompatible concepts, but that equality of opportunity is contingent on broader social equality. On top of which, the phrase "equality of outcome" is, in itself, a crude and simplistic generalisation of more sophisticated notions of justice and equality. So, instead of being an "inspiring aspiration", the concentration on equality of opportunity marks the abandonment of any egalitarian concept of social justice. It is an historic departure for the Labour Party, but a convenient one. After all, if equality no longer matters, one is relieved of the burden of confronting the interests of the rich. Rather a curious position for a social democratic party to take.