Much encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive response in previews, reviews, e-mails and tweets to my social mobility/meritocracy documentary, Posh and Posher, which went out on BBC2 Wednesday night and is still available on BBC iPlayer.
Also grateful to those who were constructively critical, because they have contributed enormously to exactly the kind of debate the programme was designed to spark. But I'm curious about the minority, led by the estimable columnist Steve Richards, who just wanted to dismiss it as an apologia for grammar schools and a call for the return of the 11+.
I suppose some folks hear and see only what they want to hear and see. But for the record this is what the documentary said as it approached its conclusion:
"So what is to be done?
"Surely the key must lie in our education system and finding a way to help state school kids level the playing field with their public school counterparts.
"But of course for today's politicians -- even those who themselves were the products of Grammars, like Peter Mandelson -- bringing back ANY sort of selection in state schools is the solution that dare not speak its name ... the old bogey of the 11-plus always rears its ugly head ...
[We then ran a clip of Mandy attacking selection and the 11+]
My commentary continued:
"All three big parties are unanimous that a return to grammar schools is NOT the answer -- and the reason why?
"They shudder at the very memory of the secondary moderns.
"And I agree. Nobody wants a return to the black and white system of the Fifties and Sixties.
"The 11-plus WAS far too brutal a watershed -- consigning those who failed to second-rate secondary moderns.
"But would it not be possible to have some selection [by ability and aptitude] in the state system -- more sophisticated, more flexible than back then -- without consigning anyone to the dustbin. Giving as much emphasis to good vocational schools as academic hothouses.
"Unless we do the highly-selective public schools will continue to rule the roost. And everything else -- from Tony Blair's Academies to Michael Gove's Free Schools -- could be just tinkering."
So there we are. A repudiation of the 11+. And a recognition that along with the grammars came the secondary moderns -- hardly an apologia for a return to the old system.
Maybe the critics never got that far in the programme (who can blame them?!). Or maybe dismissing it all as an apologia for the grammars is a cunning way of closing down any kind of debate about any kind of selection.
The politicians have already succeeded in doing that.
They shouldn't have the collusion of commentators in perpetuating that success. Otherwise our politics really does risk becoming posh -- and posher!
UPDATE: This show was only about social mobility in politics. Other BBC shows will look at other professions, including the media.
Some comments about Andrew's show are on the Dear Daily Politics page.
This morning we learn that the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rose to 3.7%
in December -- up from 3.3% in November -- which is quite a leap and at the high end of City expectations.
It suggests to me that interest rates will inevitably start to rise from early summer onwards. The currency markets have already priced that in, which is why sterling is looking strong against most currencies (it's just gone over $1.60 as I write).
December's inflation rate means that the official inflation rate was over 3% throughout 2010 -- 50% more than the Bank of England's 2% target, which explains why the Governor keeps on having to write to the Chancellor to explain why he regularly overshoots his target.
Nobody who shops or pays household bills will be surprised by the rise in the CPI. Everything from oil (+25%) to fruit (+7%), fish (+11%) to supermarket food (+5%) has been rising strongly, often by much more than the CPI. The headline rate of the old Retail Prices Index (RPI) rose to 4.8% in December from 4.7% in November. Many regard the RPI a better guide to rising prices for most households than the CPI.
The Bank still insists -- as it has for ages -- that inflation is a blip and will soon come down. But with this month's Vat rise and commodity prices set to increase further, it's a pretty big blip -- and set to blip away for at least the rest of this year.
The City expects the CPI to go over 4% before coming down (some even expect it to get close to 5%, which would make for a massive RPI).
The political significance of this is clear: prices are rising strongly at a time when wage rises are weak or static. Add in the recent tax rises and it is clear that living standards for most families are falling.
No governments are re-elected on falling living standards which is why the coalition, whatever its difficulties and differences, knows it has to be in for the long-term.
As British politics awaits the outcome of today's Oldham by-election, after which we can better discern what's in store for 2011, I thought I'd confine myself this morning to comments on two international developments.
First, these terrible shootings in Arizona
. Some on both sides of the Atlantic have rushed to blame them on America's increasingly bitter and divisive political discourse. After spending much of the summer filming a BBC2 documentary on the Tea Party
I have first hand experience of how hyperbolic, polarised and unpleasant debate in America has become.
But I have yet to see a scintilla of evidence that it had anything to do with the killings.
Many distinguished voices have claimed it to be so. And I can easily understand how a poisoned political atmosphere can lead to tragic events involving disturbed individuals. But facts do matter and I have yet to see a single fact linking what happened in Tucson to America's current political climate. Some might wish it to be so, to temper the current discourse or settle scores with the Tea Party. But wishing is not the same as evidence.
As things stand, there is nothing to link the gunman's actions with the political insults flying back and forth across America. That might change as we learn more about this atrocity. But for now it looks like the work of a single deranged individual with far too easy access to guns. America's gun culture, rather than its divisive discourse, might turn out to be the real villain, as it so often is when these mass shootings occur.
Second, the Coalition might like to take some comfort from the German economy, which grew at a rattling 3.6% in 2010
. This is much better than our own performance of under 2% but the Coalition should be pleased because it shows that there is not necessarily a conflict between fiscal retrenchment and growth. The criticism of Coalition fiscal policy is that it is cutting the deficit too fast and too much, in a manner that jeopardises economic growth. But Germany's centre-right Coalition has also gone in for fiscal retrenchment too and its economy is roaring ahead.
Of course, Germany's robust recovery is export-led in a way Britain cannot match and could yet be derailed by the developing European sovereign debt crisis. But the German experience shows that the simple equations which have dominated our recent debate -- deficits = growth, cuts = stagnation -- are not necessarily true.