Thursday, 11 November 2010

Revolt of the Middle Classes

Yesterday’s riots at Conservative Party HQ could spell trouble for this Government and not just because some party officials have got barricaded in their offices. If today’s front page of the Daily Mail is right then a middle class student protest march was hijacked by the lunatic fringe. Despite most of today’s papers majoring on the latter the important bit is that middle class students are marching at all, because if they are angry at the potential increase in fees then you can bet their parents are furious!

Danny Finkelstein of The Times on Breakfast TV this morning all but admitted that the Coalition was going to struggle to pass the necessary legislation, likening the revolt to the Poll Tax which angered Middle England and ushered in the end of Thatcher.

I’m not sure it’s that bad yet, but a crackdown on benefit cheats is something the middle classses can support, saddling their children with circa £40,000 debt for a degree is another thing entirely.

Whilst this is much more than a communication issue, my own sense is that a lack of joined-up thinking is compounding the problem. On the one hand we have the Prime Minister telling us that we can’t leave future generations to pay the bill for high levels of public sector debt, hence the austerity measures, whilst on the other he is proposing to saddle future generations with high levels of personal debt in order to get a degree. That’s what Henry Kissinger called a credibility gap you could drive a bus through.

A client of mine had an interesting take on it this morning. Much better he said would have been to question why everyone had to go to University in the first place. Would he take on young people without a degree I asked? “Yes” he replied, in fact he is so disappointed with the quality of graduate CVs coming across his desk that he is currently in the process of setting up links with local schools to identify ‘A’ level students who can be brought into his business and given the necessary training in-house along with a clear career path.

That is the message the Government should have been putting over, namely that University is one of a number of paths your career can take. Instead it has managed to wrap up education into a wider argument about public sector debt. That’s not clever and it is a mistake the likes of Alastair Campbell would never have made.


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