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6 July 2023

How Starmer will rethink education

The Labour leader lays out the party’s final mission.

By Freddie Hayward

Keir Starmer wants kids to start, like, speaking properly. Oracy – the ability to speak well in grammatically correct sentences – will be key to Labour’s final national mission: opportunity.

What’s not to like? Speaking with confidence and fluency is central to helping those from less privileged backgrounds to excel in the jobs market when many in the private sector already receive that support. Pivoting education towards oral examination is not new. Oxford final exams used to be delivered orally, while many Italian universities today still choose it over written examinations.

Politically, the mission allows Starmer and the shadow cabinet to talk about their compelling backstories. As Andrew notes in his column this week, it allows Labour to inject some hope into the miserable, grim scene that is British politics. In his speech Starmer will speak yet again about “respect” and breaking the “class ceiling”; recentring class in the political debate and doubling down on the word “respect” – all good stuff.

That said, “opportunity” itself is a nebulous word. It’s also a concept that doesn’t particularly resonate with voters. Of the values ranked in a recent survey by the pollster Frank Luntz, opportunity was the least important to voters, coming below freedom, security, prosperity, equality and fairness.

Finally, we all have lots of opinions about Labour’s missions (I know you do, deep down). Let’s park those for a minute and note that Labour has taken what are in effect five subtitles of an ordinary manifesto and wrung out six months of media attention. Clever.

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This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe to it on Substack here.

[See also: “We’re all Blairites now” in the Labour Party]

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