From the onset of socialism, it clearly reduced the opportunities of the most exceptional. This may be illustrated by its effects on the family of my Cleare grandfather (my mother’s father), which was always struggling to overcome the effects of its socially displaced position.
My great-grandfather had been relatively wealthy but had lost his money some time in the late 1800s. His son, my grandfather, had gone to a bad state school, as education was already compulsory up to the age of fourteen. However, at this early stage, it was possible to leave school completely if one had passed the school leaving exam. This my grandfather did at the age of 12. He became a shop boy and, by saving money, a shop owner. He worked very hard, and flourished since he could add up everyone’s bills in his head by mental arithmetic. He worked all hours, and would get up to sell something in the night if someone threw a stone against his bedroom window.
His rate of progress was slowed down when time limitations on shop opening hours were introduced in the early 1900s, so as to prevent people who wanted to from working longer hours in order to make more money.
Before the law was changed there had been demonstrations by shop assistants in favour of restricting opening hours. So people may argue that the introduction of time limitations on shop opening hours was in the interests of the shop assistants, and not done for the sake of reducing the opportunities of exceptional people such as my grandfather.
Whatever the ostensible motivation for the restrictions may have been, they did have a bad effect on my grandfather’s attempts to improve his position. (My mother, being philosophical about it, said that it was advantageous to her, as it meant he took her to the music halls every Sunday.)
It is likely that one effect of the restrictions was to damage my grandfather’s ability to pay for qualifications for his children. My mother went to teacher training college for two years, having said that she was not sufficiently interested in any subject to want him to pay for her to get a degree by spending three years at a university. My mother’s school (East Ham Grammar School) had thought she was so exceptional that she should go to university. In those days it would have been paid for by her father, and it was very rare for a girl to go to university.
My uncle Harry (one of my mother’s brothers), who was the captain of the Essex chess team, was not able to take a degree in spite of his father having announced, ‘Harry is going to be a lawyer.’
Uncle Harry later won a university scholarship in a national competition for local government employees, but did not take it up, out of a very realistic fear that he might lose his job as head of a local government department if he took leave of several years to take a degree. (In his case, the government would have paid his university fees.)
My grandfather gave my parents a small house when they married, and might have been able to do more to alleviate the pressures on my father, both before and after their marriage, if he had been better off, which he might well have been without the restrictions on shop opening hours.
Clearly several people with exceptional ability were involved. My grandfather himself, my mother, my father who was brought into the family circle by his association with my mother, my uncle Harry (my mother’s brother), and myself. The restrictions on shop opening hours and shop employees, and also the introduction of rent controls which gave tenants security of tenure at controlled rents, were very damaging for my grandfather’s attempts to rise to a position more comparable to that which his father had lost.
If his attempts to improve his position had been less hampered, he might well have been able to pay for degrees for some or all of my mother, my father and Uncle Harry. Then I might have gone to private schools, and been saved from exposure to the state educational system which ruined my life.
My unfunded independent university, which could be publishing analyses of the complex issues involved in the area of social policy, has been effectively censored and suppressed for decades. Meanwhile, misleading and tendentious material on the topic continues to pour out from socially recognised sources.