Letters: The veiled elitism of social mobility

1 May 2021

9:00 AM

1 May 2021

9:00 AM

Levelling up

Sir: In making the case for social mobility, Lee Cain unwittingly endorses the classism he hopes to fight (‘Left behind’, 24 April). As the historian Christopher Lasch has argued, the canard of social mobility merely replaces ‘an aristocracy of wealth with an aristocracy of talent’. Far from being egalitarian, the concept is inherently elitist: it implies moving up, out or away from a class, town or profession condemned as undesirable. And by paying lip service to ‘meritocracy’ it becomes a self-serving justification for elites’ power and privilege — if they had the ‘ability and ambition’ to rise to the top, it must only be indolent dullards who are left behind.

For Lasch, the most important choice a democracy has to make is ‘whether to raise the general level of competence, or merely to promote a broader recruitment of elites’. In seeking to regenerate deprived areas, Johnson’s levelling-up agenda appears to aim at the former. We should ditch the veiled elitism entailed by social mobility if we are not to continue with the latter.
Laurie Wastell
London N22

Don’t leave us behind

Sir: Mr Cain’s piece was excellent. As the father of a son growing up in the former South Wales coalfields, I see the lack of genuine local opportunity for our brightest and best here. To earn the average UK wage we all ‘work away’; semi-skilled factory work or local authority employment being the only alternatives, with far lower remuneration. There are 250,000 people in Rhondda Cynon Taff. Don’t leave us behind.
D. Darran

Upkeep offset

Sir: In France, I believe any expenditure for repairs or improvements to recognised listed buildings can be offset against the owner’s income tax (‘Home truths’, 24 April). While a similar system here would not resolve the problem of obtaining permission for modern-day improvements, it would certainly be a consolation for owners faced with arcane maintenance investment demands.
John Creighton
Westerham, Kent

Green ambition

Sir: If anything, Katy Balls understates the potential costs of the government’s carbon-cutting agenda in her otherwise excellent article (‘The green games’, 17 April). Net zero 2050 is probably the most ambitious and expensive policy goal the UK has set itself since May 1940. Official cost estimates for nullifying the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 range from £1.5 trillion to £2.1 trillion. That equates to around 69 per cent to 97 per cent of pre-Covid GDP. Defeating the Axis cost Britain about 84 per cent of its 1939 GDP.

Britain paid off the last of its second world war debt in 2006. Might we therefore expect to finish paying for the war on climate change by about 2111?
Karl Williams
Great Malvern, Worcestershire

Not fully comprehensive

Sir: Stephen Agar doesn’t give a full picture of Shirley Williams’s daughter’s education (Letters, 24 April). I was at the time working as a grammar school teacher in the Inner London Education Authority. It is true that Camden School for Girls was ‘newly comprehensive’, in the sense that it was receiving its first comprehensive intakes in the lower years. However, Miss Williams would have entered further up the school, into what was the old grammar school intake. So Mrs Williams’s daughter had an academically selective education for the whole of her school career.
Kevin Richardson
London SE13

Huw’s muddle

Sir: Charles Moore observed (24 April) that Huw Edwards had muddled Ecclesiastes with Ecclesiasticus in his commentary of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral. A more egregious inaccuracy by Edwards was to state that the Land Rover hearse was commanded by soldiers of the Royal Engineers. They were in fact members of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, a quite distinct corps of which HRH had been colonel-in-chief since 1969.
Maj Gen (retd) Philip Corp
Salisbury, Wiltshire

The winning song

Sir: Barometer (24 April) notes that the UK gave nul points to Abba’s ‘Waterloo’ in the 1974 Eurovision song contest, and that Bjorn claimed it was a tactic to support the UK entry. I think it equally possible that it was out of distaste for the triumphalism in the song’s lyrics. I know from having served the most excellent Waterloo English cheese to a French friend that they don’t always take kindly to such things.
Christopher Miller
Salisbury, Wilts

Forget about it

Sir: Fiona Mountford’s piece querying why some people are so reluctant to say anything to acknowledge someone’s bereavement (‘Mourning sickness’, 17 April) reminded me of the explanation I was given when, in similar circumstances, a friend remained silent on the then recent death of my father. He replied: ‘Oh, I didn’t want to remind you of it.’
Virginia Ironside
London W12

Sensing pressure

Sir: Melissa Kite wonders (10 April) how a nurse is to take her blood pressure without being in attendance. I can only suppose that the nurse in question subscribes to your paper and is therefore well aware that Ms Kite’s blood pressure is permanently up.
Jonathan Hayward
Nempnett Thrubwell, Somerset

Thomson and Thomson

The review last week of Jo Willett’s The Pioneering Life of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was wrongly credited to Ian Thomson. The author of the review was Hugh Thomson. We apologise for this error.

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