When Theresa May first entered Downing Street, there seemed to be a genuine change in tone from the Conservatives. Mrs May set out what she believed were the great modern-day injustices in our society:
- Being poor made you more likely to die almost a decade early.
- White, working class boys are less likely to get into university.
- The privately educated are more likely to get a top job than somebody who went to state school.
- Women earn less than men.
- People with mental ill health do not have the support they need.
- Young people will find it even harder to own their own home.
All of these struck a chord with me. These are the undeniable truths of our society. It felt strange, almost refreshing, that here was a Conservative Prime Minister who had a clear understanding of what was broken in our society. It suggested that Liberals and Social Democrats would not have to spend our time debating whether or not these problems existed, but instead how we could all go about tackling them.
Two years on, and this speech seems like it was made in a different universe. The Conservatives have gone out of their way to avoid tackling these injustices. Instead, they have spent every ounce of political capital fighting with each other over how best to fall off a cliff-edge.
Brexit has become the political equivalent of a black-hole. The domestic agenda has been sucked away. Apparently, this week at Conservative conference, Mrs May will attempt to articulate her post-Brexit vision, however the headlines have so far been dominated by Boris Johnson, a festival of Brexit and a Thick of It-style conference app failure. Not the most inspiring start, but completely representative of this mess of a government.
One of the main reasons the social mobility agenda has fallen by the way side is because too many Conservatives simply don’t value it. The likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg didn’t get into Parliament because they had a burning desire to see that every child had the same opportunities in life, or that the gender pay gap was a national embarrassment that needed to be ended. He and his ilk were driven by just one subject – Europe.
The reason Brexit so all-encompassing is because those with the real power are demanding it to be so. Social mobility can wait a generation or two, this is their one chance to drag Britain out of Europe and they will not be distracted.
Whilst I would like to believe that Theresa May will eventually stand up to the Brexit zealots and legislate for a people’s vote, I know it will not be that easy. But the injustices and inequalities as set out by the Prime Minister will not benefit from Brexit. The poorest and most vulnerable in our society will not see a Brexit dividend. If Theresa May is serious about building a truly just society, she needs to start working towards it. That means giving us an exit from Brexit and investing in people again.