Taught to be superior

Peter Kellner ("Yes, we still need meritocracy", 9 July) has mounted a powerful defence of the meritocracy. But he is confusing the strong case for choosing, on their merit, surgeons to operate on him, and pilots likewise to fly Roy Hattersley across the Atlantic, with the weak case for a new class of meritocracy.

Many people are selected for the privileged at school, from the age of five onwards. They are liable to be regarded by their teachers, parents and, sometimes, their peers as superior, and before long so regard themselves. When they reach adulthood, they are only too ready to feel the ineffable superiority of education-made men or women. Branding by school has replaced branding by birth. The more that selection can be postponed, the better the chances of there being some sense of "equal worth" between them.

When people who are chosen in a crude way, according to a set of values that plays down co-operation, generosity or humility, they are likely to see themselves as the elect, the elite acknowledging each other's claim to be a legitimate child of the bitch god, success. We are not there yet but, if Tony Blair gets his way, I fear it will not be long before society will be crystallised into the new two nations, those without merit and those apparently loaded with it.

Michael Young
London E1

This article first appeared in the 23 July 2001 issue of the New Statesman, In the line of fire