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July 04, 2005



The War against Privilege must sometimes cause casualties. My own plan to make success at Oxbridge admissions fairer is that we accept that the greatest educational privilege a child can have is to have two parents, still married, who encourage study. Consequently, Oxbridge should reject anyone who has two parents, still married, both schoolteachers.


But then, who really among politicians really WOULD follow equality of opportunity to that extent? Nobody. Their argument might simply be that they would make incremental movements towards it, and that their incremental movements would be more successful than Labour's.

As with all references to equality (likewise, freedom), the devil is in the detail. At what point are opportunities truly open - where is the starting gate in the race of life?

This could lead to all kinds of contradictory suggestions, some of which might move us from equality of opportunity suspiciously towards equality of outcome.

The real stupidity of the Tory Party is uncritically buying into this stuff. Equality of opportunity is by no means an unalloyed good, and is intimately tied up with modern individualism, which no Tory should be wholly comfortable with. And meritocracy - a concept related to, if not necessarily the same as, equality of opportunity - should also raise some doubts for a Tory.

... and that means the real stupidity of the Tory Party is in accepting liberalism. And that's where Mill's accusation falls down a little. His is the standard rationalist complaint about conservatives not sticking by conservative principles. But conservatism isn't an abstraction, and certainly not one defined by Mill.

It shouldn't also be forgotten that Mill was a partisan Liberal politician (he became an MP a few years after Rep Gov), and so had reason to hurl abuse at his political opponents.

Peter Briffa

That's why, Blimpster, it would be so cool if one of the Tory candidates - DD, say - were to pour scorn on the whole concept of Equality of Opportunity. If he were, there would be a three day wonder as various liberals, socialists and caring Conservatives rebuked him, to which he could respond: look you peasants, I disapprove of it because it leads to tyranny.

Of course, that would mean we would have to disagree with somebody, have an argument. And that would scare the horses.


Quite so, Peter, quite so. We live in hope...

David Wildgoose

This is a straw man argument. The only way to get the kind of "equality of opportunity" you're referring to is to take away children at birth and have the state bring them up. And even then, there's good nursery workers and bad, so still no equality.

That's not what most people think of when you mention "equality of opportunity". To most people (myself included) that means removal of barriers to success, i.e. prejudices based upon religion, colour, accent (William Hague knows about this one), and so on. But this is the classic territory of negative or positive freedoms.

I'm all in favour of "negative" freedoms, i.e. freedom from various oppressions, but less so with so-called "positive" freedoms.


I second David Wildgoose above. This all depends on your construal of opportunity. Equality of opportunity could mean the bare legal fact of careers open to the talents, or it could mean the quasi-totalitarian levels of state intervention you envisage, and more or less anything in between. It depends on what is taken as a barrier to opportunity. Also, he didn't say he only believed in equality of opportunity, so presumably it is to be balanced against other goals.

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