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By John Bird


Tuesday, October 12, 2010.


Dear Ed Milliband,

Your old school sits uncomfortably in the socially mixed areas of expensive houses, and council estates in North London. Yet Haverstock Hill Comprehensive that helped produce you has broken the mould. You are the first Labour Party leader who went to an ordinary state school. Otherwise, it has been the public school or the grammar school that have produced most of our leaders.

Elite schooling for elite leaders might run the argument.

Now with one of the four top jobs in politics, you are the only state produced product. Prime Minister –Eton; Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Lib Dems- Westminster; and of Course, Boris Johnson as London Mayor- Eton.

When people think of political leaders they will now also think of this ordinary man who got to the top. Yet there is something not quite right about your ordinariness.

But not in a sly underhanded way, but in a positive way.

You Ed, are loaded down with “Social Mobility”. That magic ingredient that sorts out poverty and without which you could be signing on this very day.

Boris, David and Nick got their social mobility through the prosperity and social position of their parents and forefathers. But you Ed got it from a refugee father and mother, who got to the UK by the skin of their teeth.  And produced a family in a new country and a new social circumstance. No gifts from privilege, and no leg ups; just the hard labours of your parents getting you to make the most of your skills and abilities. Burning the candle at both ends, postponing gratification to some other day. Learning the deep advantage you can get if you really put your back into something.

I raise these issues Ed, not in order to follow the envy laden take that many people have on privilege, but to emphasize the advantages got from “Social Mobility”.

Without Social Mobility you would be sunk. Without your parents pushing you, you could not make the big leap to being the leader of the Labour Party. Without you going with the social mobility being offered you would be lost.

And that is what we need to give to those stuck on the prison sentence called Welfare.

The leaders of the Labour Party have always emphasized the need to help the poor. But as of yet they have not given them the same “social Mobility” that they themselves have had.

They have given help, they have given support. But often the support crippled and destroyed what little chance of becoming socially mobile there was available to the poor.

I met you Ed a month or two back and I challenged you about your saying that “social Mobility wasn’t everything.” You the shinning product of it. The Haverstock Hill boy made good.

You made the point we needed to help people. And I said without helping people to social mobility then your help was often a life sentence in dependency.

People have to be treated fairly well on welfare in order to say farewell to welfare. Imagine all the cabinet ministers and party leaders we have missed because their parents were dumped on benefit?

Imagine your parents Ed, refugees being put on the kind of life support machine of benefit, and then never being able to get off of it?

You of all people must support our poorest into getting out from under. And the biggest help we need to give is the help to get out of poverty, especially of the state sponsored kind.

A hand up and not a hand out.


John Bird is the founder of The Big Issue magazine.

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