The Modern Conservative Party Will Always Unashamedly Back Social Mobility

30/05/2016 15:03 | Updated 30 May 2016

It was reported today that the head of Eton, Lord Waldegrave of North Hill has threatened to leave the Conservatives, because of his disagreement with Government policy. He was apparently pushed towards this decision by Matt Hancock's announcement last week of plans to boost social mobility and enhance life chances, with the particular focus of his ire being the idea of monitoring whether job applicants have attended a private school.

I am sure that schools such as Eton continue to provide an excellent education and enable their students to have wonderful careers, and make a real contribution to society. But it would be a grave misunderstanding to view these measures as attacking these schools, or punishing students for choices made by their parents.

Instead this is about making sure that every single person in Britain, no matter who they or their parents are, what postcode they live in or what school they went to, has the exact same equal opportunity in life as anyone else.

And in truth this vision of a One Nation Britain is the central purpose of this Government; it's at the heart of everything they are doing. We know that part of building this better Britain, is helping schools to improve, and that is why Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan have undertaken reforms, improved standards, and enabled academies to break free from the one sized fits all control of Whitehall.

We also know that young people need to be given the skills required to find a career and shine when given the opportunity to do so. That's why universities have been set free from student number caps, so that the best universities aren't arbitrarily constrained from providing their amazing opportunities to as many students as possible. And it's why the Government is providing three million apprenticeship starts by 2020, while Nick Boles and Sajid Javid work simultaneously to drive up standards, increase routes into apprenticeships, and make higher level apprenticeship qualifications more common.

But this is not all that we should do. Politicians can no longer afford to be smugly comfortable with a situation in which only 7% of our children attend private schools, and yet these lucky few still dominate so many of the highest paid and most prestigious jobs in the country. We cannot wait to see what happens in the future while, every single high status career has this problem; whether it is the judiciary, politics, the media, theatre, or almost any other sector you can think of. We have to work with those offering these great careers, in both the public and private sector to ensure that they are providing these opportunities on a free and fair basis.

It should be emphasised that this suggestion, of monitoring whether an applicant went to private school, is entirely voluntary. Businesses will not be forced into taking this action, and no legislation is being passed. Additionally, this is about monitoring who is being hired, it's not removing opportunity from anybody, and you can't understand a problem, or whether it is improving unless you have data on it.

And the beauty of this suggestion is that it is not just about fairness, it also makes perfect economic sense. It is poor business and economic inefficiency if you end up hiring from the same old pool, over and over again. If you unintentionally find yourself cut off from these alternative sources of talent, then this is not just a sad waste of individual potential, but the potential these individuals had to change your company, to come up with new ideas, to use their personal understanding of your target markets and to be set free from the same old group think. The value in this for everyone is shown by the companies that have already signed up to work on this - from Deloitte to Barclays, from Accenture to the Bank of England.

My party will always do what it can to help those who want to get on in life and improve their lot. We are the party of Margaret Thatcher, the greengrocers daughter, and John Major, the working class kid from Brixton. This Government is unashamedly backing social mobility; the measures we have already taken have made a huge difference, but we can always do more. That's why these suggestions have been put forward, and I look forward to seeing them develop.

Nadhim Zahawi is the Conservative MP for Stratford-upon-Avon