By Malick Nythern Doucoure
11th May 2010 and 13th July 2016.
These two dates may be years apart, and there have certainly been plenty of political developments between them, but they both share one thing in common: both saw newly elected Conservative leaders make promises of fighting inequality and creating a Great Britain that works for Britons. Both leaders subsequently failed to deliver on their promises, with policies that only worked to further exacerbate the deep socio-economic differences this nation is struggling to fight through. Oh, and if you haven’t figured it out already, I’m talking about David Cameron and Theresa May.Both leaders painted a picture of a meritocratic Great Britain in which your wealth is determined by your work and not your class – as a democratic socialist, this was music to my ears – in their opening speeches as Prime Ministers. Unfortunately, after seven years of successive Conservative governments, one has yet to neither see nor feel the changes that were pledged by David Cameron and Theresa May.
During David Cameron’s first speech as Prime Minister, he stated: “I want to help try and build a more responsible society here in Britain, one where we don’t just ask, ‘Where are my entitlements?’ but, ‘What are my responsibilities?’ Where we don’t ask, ‘What am I owed?’ but more, ‘What can I give?’ (Cameron, 2010).
Cameron certainly had his fair share of wise words that certainly demand acknowledgement and in this particular case, applause. However, you can imagine not only my bitter disappointment but that of half the nation when Cameron promises to “always help…those who can’t” yet five years into his tenure as Prime Minister, homelessness and use of food banks reached record levels, with the Trussel Trust giving numbers of over 500,000 three-day emergency food supplies to people between April and September 2015.
If thousands of people could not afford food, why wasn’t the government helping, as Mr Cameron had promised? If thousands of people could not afford to put a roof over their heads, one must ask again, why wasn’t the government helping, as Mr Cameron had promised? Why are almost 28% of food bank referrals a result of “Benefit Delays” – a direct result of reduced funding for the welfare state and other socio-economic policies taken by Cameron’s government – when Cameron promised to “make sure that my government always looks after the elderly, the frail the poorest in our country” (Cameron, 2010).
David Cameron failed to act on his promise to reduce inequality and help “those who can’t”. He isn’t the first politician to fail to act on a promise and he certainly will not be the last. Unfortunately, It seems like his political successor, Theresa May, has embarked upon the same route of making promises to fight inequality and failing to act on it – and not just that too, it looks like she’s set about on further exacerbating it.
On the 13th July, 2016, after having emerged victorious in the Conservative party leadership contest, Theresa May made her first statement as the new Prime Minister. Her opening speech was widely praised as a model for a good speech, as May successfully evoked a sense of ethos in her audience by employing key rhetorical strategies so I’d like to declare my personal praise for her speech.
“If you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white.
If you’re a white, working-class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university.
If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately.
If you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man. If you suffer from mental health problems, there’s not enough help to hand.
If you’re young, you’ll find it harder than ever before to own your own home.”
This passage from her speech truly struck a chord with socialists, fabians, centrists and many conservatives across the country. Thus words can’t begin to describe my pure disappointment and dismay when Mrs May announced plans to open new Grammar schools across the country. Just months before she had highlighted an extreme educational injustice in which: “If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately” (May 2016). Despite damning reports and vehement opposition to the plans to opening new Grammar schools, May stuck to her guns – albeit with numerous concessions, as the government announced as of the 9th February that no new institutions would be opened until 2020 and only 10% of all students will have the opportunity to attend a new Grammar school – and pressed on with her Grammar schools plan.
Opening additional Grammar Schools will not change the injustice of attending state schools making you less likely to reach top professions, at all. It just opens up more opportunities for those who can afford to pay for tutors to make sure their children pass 11+ tests and get placed in Grammar schools. What about working class children who cannot afford tutors? Working class children who cannot afford to buy educational books? Working class children whose education relies on relatively poor quality books from under-fire public libraries who struggle to cope with reduced budgets because of Conservative public spending cuts.
May promised to reduce inequality but then decided there was enough money to open new Grammar schools for those can afford it, but not enough money for public libraries to ensure those who can’t spare money, can still get a good, proper education. This wasn’t just a broken promise from May to the people she pledged to look out for, but rather a grave political injustice that contributes to the growing anti-establishment resentment in the western political world of today.
What does this entail for the future? For the time being, May’s going nowhere. With no real formidable opposition leader to challenge her, public perception of May is polling at a relatively good level. The government seems to have atleast slightly rolled back on its Grammar schools plan, but when it comes to the electorate, a broken promise is never forgotten (Nick Clegg has a thing or two to say about that). Thus – with the handling of Brexit and other major political factors in mind – we must await the outcome of the next general elections to see how the nation truly feels about Theresa May.