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Minorities can lack aspiration - PM

Social mobility is being held back because people from outside the white middle class can lack the "aspiration" to make it into top jobs, David Cameron suggested.

The Prime Minister endorsed Sir John Major's call for action to counter the "truly shocking" dominance of privately educated affluent individuals in powerful positions.

But he insisted it was insufficient just to "make changes and sit back", as some minorities did not feel they could "get all the way to the top".

"You've got to get out there and find people, win them over, get them to raise aspirations, get them to think they can get all the way to the top," he said.

The comments by Conservative ex-prime minister Sir John particularly stung Eton-educated Mr Cameron - who critics accuse of surrounding himself with people from a similarly privileged background.

He defended the make-up of his own team, pointing out that he was choosing "from a talent pool" of MPs and had a former working miner in his cabinet - Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

"I employ people on the basis of 'are they the right person to do the job and have they got the skills and talents?'" he told reporters accompanying him on a visit to India.

"Obviously I am choosing from a talent pool of Members of Parliament. There's always more that can be done.

"I don't think the last Labour government had a former working miner in the Cabinet."

Responding to Sir John's remarks, he said: "I want to see a Britain where no matter where you come from, what god you worship, the colour of your skin, what community you belong to, you can get to the top in television, you can get to the top in the judiciary, you can get to the top in the armed services, get to the top in politics, get to the top in newspapers.

"We are making some progress in those areas but it is not fast enough and we need to go further and faster so I absolutely agree with the thrust of what John Major said.

"You only have to look at the make-up of Parliament, the judiciary, the Army, the media. It's not as diverse, there's not as much social mobility as there needs to be.

"That's something I've tried to change and in some areas I've had some success: there were no Members of Parliament on my side of British Indian or British Afro-Caribbean backgrounds and now there are.

"Is it fast enough? No.

"But I do believe it is not enough just to make changes and sit back. You've got to get out there and try and attract talented people into ... top levels of industry, top levels of media, top levels of politics.

"Just opening the door and saying we are in favour of equality of opportunity, that's not enough.

"You've got to get out there and find people, win them over, get them to raise aspirations, get them to think they can get all the way to the top."

Mr Cameron said Sir John was a "serious and major political figure and ... perfectly entitled to make serious interventions.

"I welcome these debates and points. He has raised a very important issue."

Asked whether he might promote black Tory MP Adam Afriyie, who has been the subject of speculation of a leadership bid and has been demanding an immediate referendum on EU membership, Mr Cameron said simply: "He's a very talented man.

"He's certainly not short of national attention at the moment."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told LBC 97.3 radio: "We need a fairer society where people can get ahead in life regardless of the circumstances of their birth and they can be carried forward as far as their talents, their hard work, their dreams take them.

"That's the reason I made, early on in this Government, this Government's primary social policy priority social mobility. It's why I appointed (social mobility tsar) Alan Milburn to keep our feet to the fire.

"What is really important is that we start early. All the evidence overwhelmingly (says)... if you help kids before they even hang up their coats on their first day of primary school, if you help little toddlers so that they listen to authority and have enthusiasm to learn and mix well with their classmates, that does more for social mobility than almost anything else."

He added: "Something I think would make a difference is that we've got to get over this barely-concealed snobbery, that somehow once you leave school the only good thing to do is bury your nose in a book in a university library and get an academic degree.

"That's a wonderful thing to do, if you want to go to university - and thankfully, more and more youngsters are going to university, particularly from deprived families, and I had a great time at university... But all the evidence shows that if you give more and more youngsters the opportunity to take up apprenticeships, do vocational qualifications, not feel that somehow they are second-value qualifications compared to university education, that has a dramatic effect on social mobility."

Mr Clegg played down suggestions that a return to grammar schools was the best way to break the dominance of privately-educated people in top jobs.

"I don't think, and neither does Alan Milburn and nor do most people think, that actually it is grammar schools that can have the transformative effect on social mobility," said the Deputy Prime Minister.

"I support excellence in schools. I think it is incredibly important that everybody who has children in the state-funded sector should not feel that they have got second-best. All the evidence is that you can have academic excellence without splitting up kids into different groups at an early stage in their educational careers.

"That's one of the reasons why I rejected the idea, put forward some time ago, that we should return to O-levels, where at the age of 11 you say to one bunch of kids 'You are on that heap' and to another bunch of kids 'You are on that heap'. It often deprives children who are developing at different rates or different paces the ability to fulfil their potential."


From Belfast Telegraph