This is our truth, tell us yours
You can’t fail to notice, in the Labour leadership debate,that the word aspiration emerges constantly. It is a moral choice, apparently, to aspire.
Aspiration is a hugely value laden word. If you aspire to wealth, at the expense of others, you are making a moral choice, and not, in my opinion, a good one. If you aspire to a nation with a secure safety net for all, then you are also making a moral choice, and, in my view, a good one.
So when the likes of Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper talk about aspiration, what do they mean? Do they mean nobody left behind, or devil take the hindmost?
In the Blair years, aspiration and choice were closely aligned. It was moral, apparently, to aspire to get your child into the best local school, even if that meant someone else’s kids would miss out,and even if it meant lying about where you lived or whether you went to church. The dirty little secret of the Blair education revolution of course was that for many of those aspirant parents, their main aspiration was homogeny, that their children should be educated in schools with other kids like them. Not for them the aspiration that every kid should have a good education, just that their kid should have a better education than the others.
That sense of aspiration as an individual good was tied, inevitably, into a sense of moral worth, that economic achievement and success in a career was a reflection of moral worth. To use the terminology of Eric Fromm, having was related to being in a degraded sense; to have, apparently, reflected being good.
It was claptrap of course. Andy Coulson, convict, perjurer and criminal, had great wealth, and possessions. He was and is morally corrupt. So were any number of people who had great wealth before being exposed as liars, cheats and crooks. Moreover, we created a society where the logical response to too many parents wanting their children to be admitted to the best schools was not to improve other schools but to police admissions by deploying surveillance to detect those who might have lied to get their kids further up the ladder of aspiration.
Any Labour leadership contender who won’t talk about this risks failing the authenticity test. One thing that is sure about the kind of people who wish to discuss aspiration without defining it, is that they don’t want to tell the truth about the limits upon aspiration.