Gove contradicts Cameron and says Major was "right" on class

The PM's spokesman said "what counts is not where you come from but where you are going", but Gove says: "He's right. It's an inescapable fact."

David Cameron's spokesman brusquely dismissed John Major's comments on social mobility yesterday, declaring that "what counts is not where you come from but where you are going".

Major told a Conservative association dinner in South Norfolk: "In every single sphere of British influence, the upper echelons of power in 2013 are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class. To me from my background, I find that truly shocking."

But in his response to the former PM, Michael Gove struck a markedly different tone, telling The World At One: "He's right. It's an inescapable fact." 

A fact it is, but one that Gove, the adopted son of an Aberdonian fishmonger (he was state-educated before winning a scholarship to the private Robert Gordon's College), is more comfortable acknowledging than Cameron. In that regard, it's worth highlighting a notable passage in Rachel Sylvester's fine column on Major and Cameron today: "To the frustration of other senior Tories, including Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have not done nearly enough since 2010 to counter the prejudice that the Conservatives are on the side of the few rather than the many. Indeed they have reinforced it by cutting the top rate of tax for the wealthiest, a deeply damaging symbolic change, while reducing benefits for the poor."

The Tories' blue collar modernisers were dismayed when the Tories' only response to Ed Miliband's living wage plans was to (falsely) claim that they would increase government borrowing. Robert Halfon (who recently argued on The Staggers in favour an energy windfall tax) warned: "We mustn't make the same mistake the Conservatives made ten years ago in opposing the minimum wage. We mustn’t get ourselves in the position of again being against this. That would be a disaster for the party." 

In a piece for the NS in August, Guy Opperman similarly argued: "Britain is a country in which some workers earn so little that the government has to step in and provide aid. That is the system of tax credits we have; a subsidy by any other name and a £4bn one at that. How and why did we let it become acceptable for a full-time job not to pay enough to live on? The living wage isn’t just a wonkish idea – it’s the political world catching up with many Britons’ reality...It may just be the old socialist in me but when did it become a hindrance rather than a duty for a business to look after its employees?"

Rumours persist that the government will eventually announce plans for a significant increase in the minimum wage, but with the election now less than 18 months away, the Tories are short of time to detoxify their brand.

Education Secretary Michael Gove at the Conservative conference in Manchester last month. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Brexit could destroy our NHS – and it would be the government's own fault

Without EU citizens, the health service will be short of 20,000 nurses in a decade.

Aneurin Bevan once said: "Illness is neither an indulgence for which people have to pay, nor an offence for which they should be penalised, but a misfortune, the cost of which should be shared by the community."

And so, in 1948, the National Health Service was established. But today, the service itself seems to be on life support and stumbling towards a final and fatal collapse.

It is no secret that for years the NHS has been neglected and underfunded by the government. But Brexit is doing the NHS no favours either.

In addition to the promise of £350m to our NHS every week, Brexit campaigners shamefully portrayed immigrants, in many ways, as as a burden. This is quite simply not the case, as statistics have shown how Britain has benefited quite significantly from mass EU migration. The NHS, again, profited from large swathes of European recruitment.

We are already suffering an overwhelming downturn in staffing applications from EU/EAA countries due to the uncertainty that Brexit is already causing. If the migration of nurses from EEA countries stopped completely, the Department of Health predicts the UK would have a shortage of 20,000 nurses by 2025/26. Some hospitals have significantly larger numbers of EU workers than others, such as Royal Brompton in London, where one in five workers is from the EU/EAA. How will this be accounted for? 

Britain’s solid pharmaceutical industry – which plays an integral part in the NHS and our everyday lives – is also at risk from Brexit.

London is the current home of the highly prized EU regulatory body, the European Medicine Agency, which was won by John Major in 1994 after the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty.

The EMA is tasked with ensuring that all medicines available on the EU market are safe, effective and of high quality. The UK’s relationship with the EMA is unquestionably vital to the functioning of the NHS.

As well as delivering 900 highly skilled jobs of its own, the EMA is associated with 1,299 QPPV’s (qualified person for pharmacovigilance). Various subcontractors, research organisations and drug companies have settled in London to be close to the regulatory process.

The government may not be able to prevent the removal of the EMA, but it is entirely in its power to retain EU medical staff. 

Yet Theresa May has failed to reassure EU citizens, with her offer to them falling short of continuation of rights. Is it any wonder that 47 per cent of highly skilled workers from the EU are considering leaving the UK in the next five years?

During the election, May failed to declare how she plans to increase the number of future homegrown nurses or how she will protect our current brilliant crop of European nurses – amounting to around 30,000 roles.

A compromise in the form of an EFTA arrangement would lessen the damage Brexit is going to cause to every single facet of our NHS. Yet the government's rhetoric going into the election was "no deal is better than a bad deal". 

Whatever is negotiated with the EU over the coming years, the NHS faces an uncertain and perilous future. The government needs to act now, before the larger inevitable disruptions of Brexit kick in, if it is to restore stability and efficiency to the health service.

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