Notes in the margin: Equal Opportunity

Dartington Hall, near Totnes in Devon, has a long association with left-of-centre thought and politics. Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst bought the derelict estate in 1925, and the following year, inspired by the precepts of the Indian writer and thinker Rabindranath Tagore, they founded Dartington Hall School, a co-educational boarding school run along progressive lines.

Alumni of the school include the historian Martin Bernal, artist Lucian Freud and Lord Michael Young, founder of the Open University and author of the influential, if often misunderstood, 1958 book The Rise of the Meritocracy.Young's book wasn't meant to endorse the notion of meritocracy, but rather was intended as a satire and a warning of what would happen when status is distributed by education rather than by birth. Shortly before he died in 2002, Young wrote that he took no pleasure in seeing confirmed his prediction that the "poor and the disadvantaged would be done down". The coming of meritocracy, he concluded, had led to inequality becoming "more grievous" not less.

It is appropriate, therefore, that Dartington should be the venue for the UK's first arts and ideas festival to take social justice as its theme. This year's Interrogate Festival, which the organisers hope will be the first of many, will focus in particular on the causes and effects
of, as well as the possible remedies for, income inequality, which has worsened considerably in this country over the past 30 years.

The keynote presentation will be given by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, authors of The Spirit Level. They will make the case that more equal societies do better than more unequal ones. Interventions will follow from a range of thinkers and acitivists, including geographer Danny Dorling, author of Chavs Owen Jones and local MP Sarah Wollaston.

There will be music, film cabaret and comedy too, with Mark Steel, Inua Ellams and Stuart Silver, to name only three.

The Interrogate Festival runs from 23-25 September. For more information and to book tickets, visit:

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 September 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The fifty people who matter