What exactly is this “aspiration” that politicians talk about?

We’ve heard a lot in the UK over the last few weeks about how politics and politicians should be there to support “aspiration”.

It wasn’t until talking about this with a colleague that it dawned on me that this word has not only been rendered almost meaningless (hollowed out by over-use), but it’s actually also been appropriated.

Let’s start with a dictionary definition of “aspiration”: a strong desire, longing, or aim; ambition” or a goal or objective that is strongly desired”. This all sounds grand, quite a broad definition even. Especially if you count in the fact that it has a third definition “the act of breathing in”. To me, this then sounds like aspiration is a fundamental part of life, much like breathing.

But when we turn to politicians’ use of the word, something different starts to appear… Tony Blair, former Prime Minister and former leader of the Labour Party said shortly after the General Election; “The Labour party has to be for ambition as well as compassion and care. Hard-working families don’t just want us celebrating their hard work; they want to know that by hard work and effort they can rise up, achieve. They want to be better off and they need to know we don’t just tolerate that, we support it.”

Don’t get me wrong, I have every sympathy/empathy for anyone who wants to improve their lot in life, but what does Blair mean here?

I suspect he means things like ‘earn more’, ‘get a better job’, ‘own your own home’ and similar.

But is that really all aspiration means? What about the aspiration to become a scientist or an artist? The aspiration to help others or change the world? Even the aspiration to just be a better, kinder person?

Politicians really do need to start thinking about more than just the physical trappings of jobs and homes (important as they are). A political party which genuinely believed in “aspiration” would be creating more parks, funding libraries, museums, galleries and night schools. The list could go on.

So, how do we persuade politicians to approach the breadth of meaning of the word and really encourage the people of the UK to aspire?


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